SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County supervisors Tuesday placed the recall of Judge Aaron Persky on the June 5 ballot, setting the stage for voters to decide whether to oust a sitting judge in California for only the fourth time in more than a century.
The board was obligated to put the measure on the countywide ballot after proponents of recalling Persky turned in more than 95,000 signatures last month. The pro-recall campaign contends that the Superior Court judge gave too lenient a sentence to a Stanford athlete who sexually assaulted an intoxicated, unconscious young woman outside a campus fraternity party three years ago.
Recall opponents note that Persky’s six-month sentence for Brock Turner was lawful and followed a probation department recommendation, noting that Turner must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life under California law. And they argue that a recall will threaten judicial independence and result in unduly harsh sentences, mostly for people of color.
Persky also is a former prosecutor who handled hate crimes and sexually violent predators. He has served as a board member for the Support Network for Battered Women and was a member of the Santa Clara County Network for a Hate-Free Community.
Only four judges have been recalled in California since 1911 when recalls became legal in the state. One was in San Francisco in 1913 and three were on the same ballot in Los Angeles in 1932. In 1986, three state Supreme Court justices were removed from office, including Chief Justice Rose Bird, but it was during a general election, not a recall.
The supervisors also placed the question of who would replace Persky if he loses on the same ballot. Voters will have the option of immediately picking Persky’s replacement, just as they did when they ousted Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and chose Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him out of 134 other candidates. If Persky loses, whoever gets the most votes would then serve out the rest of his six-year term, ending in 2022. The winner needs only a plurality of the votes, not a majority.
Anyone who has been a licensed attorney for at least 10 years in California can run for Superior Court; there is no requirement in judicial races that candidates must live in the county. Candidates have until March 22 to enter the race. So far, only Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson has announced plans to run and formed a campaign finance committee.
The supervisors Tuesday stressed theirs was a ministerial vote, not a reflection of their support or opposition to the recall. But about 25 advocates and critics of the recall took the opportunity to speak for a minute each to the board about their views.
Advocates outnumbered opponents, as has been the case since Stanford law professor Michele Dauber vowed to recall Persky in June 2016 after he gave swimmer Turner the six-month sentence for sexually assaulting a family friend.
On Tuesday, about 12 members of the loose-knit opposition, which has been far less organized than proponents, gathered publicly for the first time.
Persky himself is constrained by strict state rules from criticizing opponents in an election. But retired judge LaDoris Cordell defended him after the board voted. Turner was released after serving half his time — three months — because of good behavior and a state law aimed at reducing jail overcrowding. Cordell said she might have sentenced Turner to the maximum jail sentence possible — one year, of which he probably would have served six months — but that it was “definitely not a prison case.”
“He had no prior criminal issues,” she said, referring to Turner. “This was not a sophisticated crime; these were two highly intoxicated people.”
But recall proponent LezLi Logan disagreed, telling the board that the public expects judges to give more consideration to the the impact on victims rather than “indulging attitudes of entitlement when sentencing offenders of privilege.”
“I am a survivor of violent sexual assault, and you’re darn right I’m angry,” she said. “And I, like so many other women, are here to say, ‘time’s up.”’
Originally posted in the Mercury News by Tracey Kaplan. Read it here.