SAN JOSE (AP) — A California judge who faces a recall vote over his handling of a sexual assault case involving a former Stanford University swimmer said he supports the movement to improve the way sexual assault victims are treated but that ousting him won’t help the cause.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky spoke for the first time against efforts to recall him in an interview Thursday with the editorial board of the Mercury News in San Jose.
“There is an underlying deep frustration among actual victims of sexual assault and women in general about the criminal justice system not taking sexual assault and domestic violence seriously,” Persky said.
“But when you take this opportunity and you steer it in the direction that they’ve steered it, that’s where there’s a problem,” he added.
Persky drew criticism after he sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner in 2016 to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman who had passed out behind a trash bin.
Persky stood by his sentencing decision and said judges cannot bend to political pressure.
“When the case came out and there’s the social media outrage, my personal opinion was that I can take the heat, I signed on to this job, I promised to essentially ignore public opinion,” he said.
The sentence ignited debate over judicial treatment of sexual assault victims and soon after, critics started work to have a recall vote against him on the June 5 ballot.
Opponents of the recall argue it would threaten judicial independence.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who spearheaded the recall effort, said she has faith in the rest of the judges throughout the state to reasonably apply the law — even after a possible recall.
“I have more faith in judicial integrity than that perspective suggests,” she said in a separate interview with the editorial board.
Persky reiterated that a righteous movement has been hijacked to attack him as a target.
“Recall proponents have said something to the extent of, ‘We’re putting rape culture on trial.’ So now I am the face of rape culture,” he said. “So you have to ask yourself, am I really the face of rape culture?”