Voters in Silicon Valley will decide whether to remove a judge heavily criticized for his six-month sentence in a Stanford University rape case, prompting a debate over judicial independence.
A campaign to recall Judge Aaron Persky from Santa Clara County Superior Court collected 94,539 signatures — well over the 58,634 signatures needed to qualify for the June ballot, according to the county’s registrar of voters.
Persky sentenced Stanford student Brock Turner — who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a trash bin after witnesses tackled him — to six months in jail in 2016.
Turner ultimately served three months in jail. He was forced to register as a sex offender for life but is appealing the decision.
The case caught worldwide attention as the unnamed woman’s letter to Turner went viral. Opponents decried the sentence as lenient, especially since evidence and witnesses left little question of Turner’s guilt — something few sexual assault cases have.
Evoking the Time’s Up movement, the recall campaign calls to cut short Persky’s term, which ends in 2022.
“It’s clear we need judges who understand sexual assault and violence against women and take it seriously,” the Recall Aaron Persky website reads. “It’s up to us, the voters, to make a difference. ”
Persky’s attempt to stop the collecting of signatures stalled in court but he plans to appeal the decision, arguing that his recall should go through the Secretary of State. He defended his decision and noted his previous career of prosecuting criminals charged with sexual assault.
“California law requires every judge to consider rehabilitation and probation for first-time offenders,” Persky said in an online statement. “It’s not always popular, but it’s the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or any personal opinions I might have as a former prosecutor.”
But if public opinion could remove a judge, could that be against other judges with controversial outcomes like San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng in the Kate Steinle case?
Voters do have the power to recall Persky since he is a local elected official, according to the Santa Clara County registrar of voters. But it could set a dangerous precedent going forward.
The recall ballot comes with a vote on who would replace Persky, should the effort pass.