Nearly 100,000 Santa Clara County voters signed a petition to put the recall of Judge Aaron Persky on the June 5 ballot. We believe Persky should be replaced with a new judge because he has a pattern of bias in favor of privileged perpetrators in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child pornography.
The most notorious case was Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. On Wednesday we will hold a rally to stand up for the victim in that case.
Persky, a former lacrosse captain at Stanford, sentenced Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a frat party. A jury convicted Turner on three felony counts, including assault with intent to rape and sexual penetration of an unconscious and intoxicated person. Turner faced 14 years in prison for his crimes—he only served 90 days.
For women in Santa Clara County, Brock Turner’s sentence isn’t just shocking, it’s dangerous. It reinforces the myth that sexual assault is not a serious crime. It discourages victims from coming forward to seek justice when even a jury verdict results in a slap on the wrist.
Both the Mercury News and the Palo Alto Weekly have endorsed the recall. The Merc wrote that “the recall will make it easier for victims to come forward and encourage prosecutors to aggressively pursue cases. Voters need to stand up and make a statement on behalf of women and men about the seriousness of sexual assault. Persky’s sentence failed to do so to an extent that he never will again be able to serve as a respected, effective judge. He should be recalled.”
The Weekly, a moderate and highly respected local paper located in the community where the assault occurred and where Persky lives, was even more withering in its criticism of Persky, writing that “Judge Persky abused his discretion, disrespected a jury, failed a crime victim and broke trust with the public he serves. There is no judicial accountability if these failures don’t lead to his removal from office.”
That’s why recall supporters include over 50 elected officials in Santa Clara County and beyond, including US Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, Representatives Ro Khanna and Eric Swalwell, State Senators Kevin de Leon, Jerry Hill and Jim Beall civil rights leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Anita Hill, and organizations including the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority, the South Bay Labor Council, the California Nurses Association, the Silicon Valley Young Democrats and the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club.
Even judges and lawyers opposed to the recall harshly criticize the Turner sentence. Former Judge Ron del Pozzo, recently retired after 15 years on the bench, said the expected sentence would have been four to six years. He called six months in jail “inconsistent with the jury verdict based on other people who have been tried for similar offenses and sentenced for similar offenses” in this county. According to Del Pozzo, “you see people get a year for the first residential burglary without any history. You see people get a year for having several DUIs behind them and having a fourth.”
Former Judge LaDoris Cordell, also a Persky supporter, called the sentence an example of “white privilege.” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the Berkeley Law School labeled it an “abuse of discretion.” District Attorney Jeff Rosen, saying he “lacked confidence” that Persky could “fairly participate,” disqualified Persky from another case of sexual assault of an unconscious victim.
Persky only sentenced approximately 64 cases involving sex crimes and violence against women during his 19 months in felony court. Many of those cases show a similar bias.
For example, Ikaika Gunderson was from a Stanford-connected family, and played football for Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. He was convicted of felony domestic violence for beating and choking his ex-girlfriend and pushing her headfirst out of a car.
Persky abused his discretion by allowing Gunderson to move to Hawaii to play college football with no probation or monitoring and without notifying Hawaii, in violation of state and federal law. He was then rearrested for domestic violence in a third state.
In another case, a Sunnyvale man named Robert Chain was convicted of felony child pornography for possessing dozens of images of little girls in sexual situations, including an infant. Persky sentenced Chain to only four days in jail, rather than the six-month sentence dispensed by other judges in this county.
Persky made the plea offer, not the DA. Persky also said he would be “receptive” to reducing the felony to a misdemeanor after only a year, contrary to the probation recommendation. A Persky supporter and public defender called Chain’s short sentence “eye-raising” and said it is appropriate for offenses like disturbing the peace or public intoxication, not felony child porn.
Even before Persky became a criminal court judge he attracted criticism for his handling of the “De Anza Gang Rape” civil trial.
In that case, Persky allowed the college baseball players accused of committing the “De Anza Gang Rape” to show the jury photos taken months later of the teenaged victim in a skimpy outfit, supposedly to prove she didn’t suffer from trauma. The victim’s lawyers said that they believed Persky “protected” the perpetrators.
Persky’s response to the recall echoes this record. He hired Donald Trump’s Arizona state director, Brian Seitchik, for his campaign. Not surprisingly, the Persky campaign has repeatedly blamed the victim in the Turner case, justifying the lenient sentence by pointing to the fact that Emily Doe was highly intoxicated.
In a Vogue article last week, Persky’s campaign lawyer, spokesperson and largest donor— donating approximately $500,000 to Persky’s campaign to fund Persky’s frivolous, failed legal attempt to block the recall—engaged in a series victim-blaming statements.
McManis told Vogue that Emily Doe, the woman assaulted by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner “was not attacked,” noting that she “had been drinking before she arrived at the fraternity party.”
McManis went further the next day, stating in the Mercury News that he believed Turner's version of events that were rejected by the jury and telling the Daily Post that Turner was not a predator because he didn’t jump out from behind a dumpster.
That’s why the above-mentioned Wednesday rally will take place at 9:30am outside McManis’ office at 50 W. San Fernando St., in San Jose.
Another of Persky’s most important endorsers, former federal judge Arthur Weissbrodt, then took to facebook to defend Persky’s light sentence for Turner because the “drunk girl” was only penetrated with Turner’s fingers not his penis.
Meanwhile, we have had silence from Persky.
The judge has failed to disavow these comments from his campaign’s lawyer and from prominent supporters. Instead, when asked by CBS not whether he would change Turner’s sentence but merely whether he would now be more sensitive to the concerns of women as a result of the #MeToo movement, his answer was “absolutely not.” This helps to make it clear why so many Santa Clara County voters believe that it is time for him to leave the bench.
Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will not come forward if they think they will be blamed for the crimes committed against them. They will not seek justice if at the end of a long process of medical examinations, invasive questions, and humiliating testimony is a slap on the wrist for their victimizers.
Opponents of the campaign to recall Persky say that recalls threaten “judicial independence” and should be reserved for judges who violate the law. In fact, Persky did violate federal and state law when he sent a convicted felon to Hawaii to play football without even notifying that state.
But the larger point is that judges are elected officials under the California Constitution, which gives to voters the power to elect judges and to recall them. That’s why the nonpartisan California Constitution Center concluded that judicial recalls are part of our constitutional mechanism for balancing the competing value sets of independence and accountability. The Persky campaign’s radical view that elected judges are unaccountable to voters is anti-democratic and contrary the California Constitution.
Santa Clara County voters deserves judges who take sexual violence seriously and who are not biased in favor of athletes and other privileged perpetrators. Voters have a right to express that value at the ballot box, and we expect they will do that on June 5 by voting to recall Persky.
This column was submitted by the Recall Persky campaign and signed by the following recall supporters: Rebeca Armendariz, Political Community Organizer, SEIU-USWW, Co-Chair Recall Persky; Prameela Bartholomeusz, Corporate Finance and Business Executive, Santa Clara County Democratic Party Executive Board member, Co-Chair Recall Persky; Michele Dauber, Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, Chair, Committee to Recall Judge Persky; Jenny Bradanini, President Women’s March Bay Area, Co-Chair Recall Persky; LezLi Levin Logan, Lead Administrator, Action Together Bay Area; Co-Chair Recall Persky; Jennie Richardson, Board Member, Women’s March Bay Area, Co-Chair Recall Persky; Dr. Sophia Yen MD., MPH, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, Co-Chair Recall Persky; Nicole Bratz, Software Engineer, Co-Chair Recall Persky; Sita Stukes, Board Member, Women’s March Bay Area, Co-Chair Recall Persky. All titles are listed for identification purposes only.