SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Organizers of a campaign to recall a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge submitted signatures Thursday to the county Registrar of Voters to try to put the decision in front of voters.
Judge Aaron Persky became controversial after handing down a light sentence to former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexual assault but received a sentence of six months in county jail.
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The Committee to Recall Judge Aaron Persky walked in 11 boxes full of more than 94,000 signatures to the Registrar of Voters office in San Jose this morning in an effort to put the recall measure on the June 5 ballot this year.
If the measure goes on the ballot to recall Persky, whose term currently is set to last until 2022, it would be accompanied by a contest to decide who will replace him if he is recalled.
Volunteers worked for four months to get signatures for the petition and the number far exceeds the 58,634 valid signatures proponents are required to turn in for a local measure, according to committee chairwoman Michele Dauber.
According to the committee, a majority of the signatures came from the city of Campbell.
The Registrar of Voters has 30 days to count the signatures and once the random sample they choose is verified, the petition will be sent to the Board of Supervisors to be placed on the ballot.
The Registrar of Voters said in a statement that even with extra staff working six to seven days a week, the verification period could last into mid-February.
“It’s a labor-intensive process and one that we will hire additional staff to complete in an accurate and timely manner,” Registrar Shannon Bushey said in the statement. “We will have a staff working overtime and weekends to ensure the integrity of this process.”
While Persky got the most media coverage for the Turner case, Dauber said the committee believes that Persky had “a pattern of bias in favor of athletes and other privileged offenders” in his rulings.
Dauber cited the 2015 domestic violence sentencing of 21-year-old Ikaika Gunderson and the child pornography sentencing of 48-year-old Robert James Chain as examples of his “biased and terrible judgment.”
“Persky has demonstrated that he does not understand violence against women and he does not take it seriously,” she said. “The voters of Santa Clara County are saying loud and clear, that they will hold judge Persky accountable for his pattern of bias in favor of athletes, and other privileged offenders who commit sex crimes and violence against women.”
If Persky is recalled, Dauber and the committee are backing candidate Cindy Hendrickson, a Santa Clara County assistant district attorney who was a civil litigator before spending more than 20 years as a prosecutor, according to her campaign website.
The committee as a whole is seeking a new judge who will hear out low-income and marginalized women who are often not brought justice when their perpetrators are more privileged than they, and they believe Hendrickson can be that judge.
“Cindy is simply better qualified and has a more impressive background than Judge Persky,” Dauber said. “Brock Turner or no Brock Turner, she’s the better candidate and I’m confident the voters are going to have a superior choice in June.”
The committee believes that they are a helping hand in the effort to stop the normalization and enabling of violence and sexual harassment against women, according to Dauber.
“This is not just about Hollywood,” she said. “This is about the many women who found themselves sitting in Persky’s courtroom and were not fortunate enough to be from the kind of privileged background that Brock Turner is.”
But Santa Clara University Law Professor Margaret M. Russell said a recall will harm judicial independence, and that judges will begin make rulings based on public pressure and intimidation, not evidence or rule of law.
When asked if she thought the recall could have a chilling effect on judges, Russell replied, “Absolutely. I think it already has. I think judges who worry that their own records and their own public decisions are going to be distorted are going to be very disturbed by this ruling.”
If Persky is recalled from the bench, this would be only the third successful judicial recall in California history.
Dauber said judicial recall was added to the Constitution in 1911. Just two years later, Judge Charles Weller was recalled for his decisions on sexual assault cases.
“We are really following that precedent,” Dauber said.
The second judicial recall in California was in 1932 when three judges were recalled on the same ballot in Los Angeles: John Fleming, Dailey Stafford and Walter Guerin. Their recall was also related to sex cases where citizens considered their rulings too lenient.
While awaiting the addition of the measure to the ballot, the committee is going to continue to be out at fairs, farmers markets and more.
Following the controversy over the Turner case, Persky was transferred to civil court at his own request.
Persky has four years left on his term. He will soon be working from his home as a night judge, on the graveyard shift approving requests after normal business hours.
If the effort succeeds, Persky would be the first judge recalled in California in 85 years.
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