Voters Remove Santa Clara Judge Aaron Persky From Bench; First in 80 Years
Judge Aaron Persky, whose 15-year judicial career will be publicly defined by how he handled an alcohol-fueled sexual assault case, was removed from the bench by Santa Clara County voters on Tuesday.
With 75 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 60 percent of voters supported Persky's recall. He will be replaced by Assistant District Attorney Cindy Seeley Hendrickson, who was outpacing San Jose civil litigator Angela Storey, 70 percent to 30 percent.
"Tonight's results mirror what we heard while we were out talking to voters," Michele Dauber, who led the recall campaign, said in an email. "We are thankful for our supporters and every person who donated their time."
The election results close the book on a divisive campaign that raised difficult questions about how the judicial system handles violence against women, how the public views judicial decision-making and independence, and how judges under political fire should respond. But the vote could continue to resonate, said retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Leonard Edwards.
"This will put a chill in any judge when considering a sentence in the criminal courts," Edwards said, "and I suppose that's what the recall supporters wanted."
Persky became the first judge recalled in California since 1932, when three Los Angeles County judges were ousted after the local bar association accused of them of graft. Persky was never charged with a crime or ethical wrongdoing. But his decision in 2016 to sentence then-Stanford University student Brock Turner to six months in jail and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman unleashed a wave of anger already fed by the beginnings of the #MeToo movement.
The victim's 7,000-word impact statementdetailing the impact of the assault outside a Stanford fraternity partywent viral. She had a passionate advocate in Dauber, a family friend and professor at Stanford Law School who would become the leader of the recall campaign. Recall supporters from around the country poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort to oust Persky, furious with the lenient sentence handed down to Turner.
The blowback on Persky was almost immediate. The judge was reassigned from his criminal calendar to handle civil cases. The court indicated it had every confidence in Persky's abilities. But the San Jose Mercury News reported that at least 10 prospective jurors had refused to sit on cases in his courtroom, citing the Turner sentence.
Persky has since been working mostly from home, handling warrants and protective orders. He did not regularly campaign in public against the recall. He held his first news conference less than a month before the election and told reporters that he originally thought he needed to just "zip it and take the heat." Turner has appealed his conviction, and judicial canons bar judges from speaking directly about pending cases.
The legal community, including District Attorney Jeff Rosen, rallied behind Persky. But their arguments about judicial independence and probation recommendations could not match a well-organized, well-funded recall campaign.
"The public doesn't understand what's going on in the courts," said Edwards. "Every time there's an election, I get calls; every judge I know gets calls: 'Who should I vote for?'"
A UC Berkeley School of Law graduate, Persky was an associate with Morrison & Foerster before joining the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office in 1997. Persky ran for judge in 2002, losing narrowly to fellow prosecutor Ron Del Pozzo. Gov. Gray Davis appointed him to the bench the next year.
Gov. Jerry Brown could conceivably appoint Persky to another judicial vacancy. The governor has done so with runner-up candidates in the past in other trial court elections. A recall target would be a first, however, and Edwards doesn't think a reappointment would work, at least not in Santa Clara County.
"This recall has destroyed this judge," Edwards said. "He lost his job, he lost his pension, and he's going to have a tough time reintegrating into the legal community."
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From: Cheryl Miller, "Voters Remove Santa Clara Judge Aaron Persky From Bench; First in 80 Years," The Recorder, June 6, 2018, https://www.law.com/therecorder/2018/06/06/voters-remove-santa-clara-judge-aaron-persky-from-bench-first-in-80-years/, accessed 06/06/2018. Cheryl Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.