Judge Aaron Persky, a Stanford alum, has come under harsh criticism since sentencing Brock Turner to six months
in county jail for assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party. Prosecutors had asked for a six-year prison sentence for the January 2015 assault.
A source familiar with the judge's thinking said Persky wanted to step aside in part because he didn't want cases before him to receive unfair and unwarranted national attention.
Effective September 6, Persky will hear cases in the civil division, Presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon said in a statement.
"While I firmly believe in Judge Persky's ability to serve in his current assignment, he has requested to be assigned to the civil division, in which he previously served," he said.
"Judge Persky believes the change will aid the public and the court by reducing the distractions that threaten to interfere with his ability to effectively discharge the duties of his current criminal assignment."
Supporters of efforts to remove Persky from the bench welcomed the news. But Michele Dauber, head of The Recall Judge Persky Campaign, said the group will proceed with the recall election.
"We are relieved that Judge Persky will not be handling criminal cases, at least temporarily. However, he will still be a judge, and judges rotate annually in our county. He can still transfer back to hearing criminal cases any time he chooses," she said in a statement.
"The issue of his judicial bias in favor of privileged defendants in sex crimes and domestic violence still must be addressed by the voters of Santa Clara County. Furthermore, judicial bias is just as serious regardless of whether a case is civil or criminal. Many issues affecting women are heard in civil court every day. "
Earlier this week, Persky recused himself
from making a decision in a different sex case.
Persky was expected to decide on Thursday whether to reduce a plumber's felony conviction for possession of child pornography to a misdemeanor. He took himself off the case, apparently in light of media coverage.
Turner was convicted in March of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.
Turner is scheduled for early release in September under California law, which gives county jail inmates credit for good conduct.