Voters Recall Judge Persky, Replacing Him With Veteran Prosecutor Cindy Hendrickson

Voters on Tuesday ousted Judge Aaron Persky, whose sentencing in a sexual assault case drew so much outrage that it turned his recall effort into what’s being called the highest-profile political campaign in Santa Clara County history.

With all precincts reporting Wednesday, nearly 60 percent of ballots favored his recall, making him the first judge in 86 years to lose his job by popular vote. Of the two women running to replace him, voters picked Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson.

Source: Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters

The recall campaign cast Persky as the face of rape culture and his recall as an indictment on a society that normalizes or diminishes violence against women. Dauber and her allies targeted Persky over what they saw as his lenient treatment of ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who served half of his six-month jail term for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus.

Upon seeing the early election results Tuesday, Michele Dauber—the Stanford professor who led the recall campaign—read a part of a statement from Turner’s victim, known publicly as Emily Doe, which went viral in the wake of the 2016 sentencing.

“When people doubt you or dismiss you, we are with you,” she told a crush of TV cameras and reporters. “We fought every day for you, so never stop fighting. We believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, ‘Lighthouses don’t go running around an island looking for boats to save, they just stand there shining.’ And although we can't save every boat, we hope that by winning this election day, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served.”

To Persky’s defenders, however, the recall posed a threat to judicial discretion. A broad swath of Silicon Valley’s legal community said it also ran the risk of harming less privileged defendants by pressuring judges to impose harsher sentences.

“Winning is never as important as doing the right thing,” retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, one of the most prominent voices against the recall, lamented on Facebook Wednesday. “While this is a sad day for the California judiciary and for Californians, we are heartened by the thousands of voters in Santa Clara County who voted against the recall of Judge Persky. They understand that the independence of our judiciary is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. The recall campaign was based on emotion and dishonesty. Our campaign was based on critical thinking and the facts.”

Sajid Khan, a South Bay public defender and another outspoken critic of the recall, echoed Cordell’s sentiment. In a blog post, he said he is “deeply concerned that this recall will cause judges to ignore the humanity of the criminally accused and impose more harsh, punitive, carceral sentences, thereby fueling mass incarceration.”

Recall proponents spent their election night win at a private home, away from the prying eyes of reporters. In addition to her remarks at the Tuesday night news conference, Dauber posted a triumphant tweet from the watch party.

Attendees tell Fly that the mood at Persky’s election night gathering, another no-reporters-allowed affair, was considerably more somber. More than one person who went compared it to a funeral. Another to a support group.

But Persky’s kids were there, and a few of his supporters brought theirs, too, which livened things up a bit and made it feel more like a family gathering. In addition to Cordell, attorney James McManis showed up. As did the county’s presiding judge, Hon. Patricia Lucas.

Persky reportedly tried to cheer everyone up by jokingly awarding plastic dollar-store medals as consolation prizes for winding up on the losing end of the fight.

“He was making it bearable enough for the rest of us to laugh,” attorney Amy Carlson says. “But that kind of made it more heartbreaking.”

Hendrickson, who will serve the remaining four years of Persky’s term, hosted a far more celebratory private get-together at her own home with friends, family and supporters.

“My folks just flew in from Virginia and they arrived just in time to see something on the news that was 39 percent reporting,” Hendrickson said of early election results Tuesday night that put her in the lead.

Hendrickson, who supported the recall, declined to elaborate on her position. Instead, she emphasized how proud she felt about the campaigns that she and her anti-recall opponent Angela Storey ran.

Persky will remain on the bench until the county authorizes a final vote county next month. But even though Hendrickson has yet to officially replace him, she’s already under intense scrutiny from reformers and activists who worry that her background as a prosecutor will make her err on the side of retributive rather than restorative justice.

And even with four years left of a six-year term, Fly’s told that some folks are plotting a challenge should the newly minted judge seek re-election.

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The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

12 Comments

  1. This so-called Judge had choice. He could have given this rapist a stronger, tougher sentence. He decided not to, so he’s been fired from the bench by the very people who put him there. I say BRAVO!

    Victims are sick and tired of being refused the justice they deserve because of Judges like this, and ridiculous laws that protect the guilty. I think this is just the beginning of a very long and overdue, overhaul of laws that protect criminals. I say AMEN to that.

  2. In the meantime California passed prop 47and prop 57 made burlgary, possession of burglary tools, possession of meth and heroin, assault of a victim that is not concious soft felonies and misdemeanors. The kid was stupid, first offense, has to register for life as an offender. But somehow, years of incarceration were supposed to change something, what exactly, we don’t know.

    But hey, let’s start doing this with more judges. Don’t like their punishment, recall them.

    Who do we start with?

    • I know murder victim, Michael Russel’s family, isn’t happy right now about the passage of Prop 57. The two guys who stabbed 14 year old Michael to death in his own backyard, just to see what it would be like to kill someone, are now able to go back to Juvenile Court, as adults, to see if they were treated fairly by being tried as adults. They could walk free with time served, depending on the residing Judge’s decision on these two murder’s “rights.”

      My heart is broken for this family. They waited years for justice, went through numerous delays, trials, which lost some of these family member’s their jobs, and finally got justice. Now they have to start all over again. Where’s the justice in that?

  3. Oh, great!

    A woman judge installed by the woman tribe to replace a respected and competent male judge whose integrity and fairness were never questioned.

    If I were an attorney with a male client, I would demand that Judge Hendrickson recuse herself.

    If I were a juror with the knowledge that Judge Hendrickson’s office was gained through naked identity politics, I would request to be excused from serving on a jury in her court. My conscience would not permit me to participate in Michele Dauber’s radical gender circus.

    A most disgraceful episode in a “civilized” constitutional republic founded on rule of law. A sad and sordid stain on local governments and institutions named Stanford Law School that should know better.

    • You would think that as the emotion of the kill wears off, they will see the truth of their folly. It is not enough that it is mob rule, pitchforks in hand, but that it is so transparently identity politics in its worst clothes.

    • I suppose by analogy foghorns like Michele Dauber don’t go running around an island looking for boats to save, they just stand there bleating or honking their foghorn as in the old Lifebuoy commercial.

  4. > Yes 59.80%
    > No 40.20%

    “Democratic” control of judges is the definition of “tyranny of the majority”.

    What were you people thinking?

    “By a vote of 51 to 49, the people have elected to allow you to keep your life, liberty, and property.”

  5. Time to look at the dirty judges and dirty lawyers . Yep Persky is a victim of bad judge culture, and Persky had ample opportunity to control bad lawyers like Bradford Baugh, Hector Moreno and James McManis in his court, under Canon 3D2 , and didn’t . LaDoris Cordell failed to understand the pent up frustration and vastly underestimated the power of social media as she rallied old money- $50,000 from McManis Faulkner and laundered money from Persky’s own wife. Santa Clara County is ground zero for judge corruption. It is the culture of the court, the culture of DA Jeff Rosen and even the public defender Molly O’Neal want to criminalize protestors and the First Amendment. On June 5th the First Amendment won.

    Right won over “legal” Might and Persky is gone.

    Hopefully Hendrickson will change it from the inside, and not become part of the culture that sent Persky packing without a pension.

    • > Right won over “legal” Might and Persky is gone.

      Mobocracy won over the rule of law. Civil society is gone.

  6. > “Winning is never as important as doing the right thing,” retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, . . . .

    Wow!

    I never appreciated how smart Judge Cordell is.

    > “While this is a sad day for the California judiciary and for Californians, we are heartened by the thousands of voters in Santa Clara County who voted against the recall of Judge Persky. They understand that the independence of our judiciary is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. The recall campaign was based on emotion and dishonesty. Our campaign was based on critical thinking and the facts.”

  7. What a victory! What Judge Persky says about people forcing judges to think about their jobs and being more punitive has no bearing on HIS case bc of his inordinate leniency toward Turner , and, historically, toward other perpetrators of sexual violence against women who came before him. His rationale that Turner would be hurt by being in a state prison is so utterly devoid of what punishment should mean that it shows just how out- of- touch he is (was !) and how he really took into first account the perpetrator’s rights rather than the victim’s injury.

    Persky should never have been allowed to judge on cases involving his alma mater; these cases should never have been in his jurisdiction, in the first place.

    The successful recall of Aaron Persky sends a strong message to other judges across the country and is an encouragement for women reporting the crime of sexual assault.

    I wonder how Judge Persky would feel if the young woman violated by Turner were HIS daughter??

    Would he be affronted by a slap on the wrist of 12 weeks in the county jail as ” punishment” pf the perpetrator?

    Shame on you , Judge Aaron Persky! You only got what you so richly deserved! Thank God you are no longer on the bench! You are an affront to justice, an affront to God. You are Jewish. Look what the Scriptures have to say about “the unrighteous judge”…!

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