SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The judge who presided over the controversial Brock Turner rape case spoke in front of cameras for the first time Tuesday about the recall effort against him.
Judge Aaron Persky is trying to avoid becoming the first California judge to be recalled in nearly 90 years.
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Facing news cameras for the first time since the Brock Turner case erupted into a national firestorm two years ago, Judge Persky called the recall effort against him “misguided.”
“We ask judges to follow the rule of law and not the rule of public opinion,” said Persky. “We have to be able to give people due process without fear of losing our jobs, without fear of what may come from that decision.”
Judge Persky sentenced Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a frat party on the university campus in 2015.
Critics called the sentence too lenient. They accused him of bias because he was also a Stanford athlete. A group of people angered by the sentence launched the recall effort, gathering thousands of signatures.
Persky says he expected some criticism, but was shocked at the response.
“I was surprised at the amount of the backlash,” said Persky. “I was sitting in my chambers and I got an email that said, ‘Dear Judge Persky. How does it feel to be the most hated man in America?'”
Persky also talked about the affect seeing signs and pamphlets in support of the recall had on him.
“How many judges want to drive down the streets of their neighborhood with their two children in the car and see a lawn sign with their father’s picture next to a mug shot?” Persky asked. “How many judges want to come home some day and find this political mailer addressed to their wife and this mailer accuses the judge of failing to protect his community?”
While he did not talk about the specifics of the Turner case because it is still under appeal, he did cite the California Commission on Judicial Performance finding that his ruling was within the law and his discretion.
He said organizations which looked into his judicial record found no patterns of bias.
At first, Persky said he tried to weather the storm and not answer his critics. But he says judicial independence is now on the line.
“I really think judges should sit back and take the criticism. But the stakes are too high now,” said Persky. “That’s why I’ve come forward. The recall, if successful, threatens the integrity of our justice system.”
A recent KPIX 5 Survey USA Poll found little support for Persky. 56 percent of Santa Clara County voters said they will vote to recall the judge, while 29 percent said they will not. Another 15 percent are still undecided.
Recall organizers said they were not swayed by Persky’s words Tuesday.
“He said he stood by his decision and he indicated that he didn’t think it was fair for the voters to vote against him on this basis. Well, that’s our constitution in the state of California,” said Persky recall organizer Michele Dauber.