Voters recall judge who gave Stanford swimmer 6 months for sex assault
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Two years after Judge Aaron Persky sentenced a Stanford athlete to six months for sexual assault, voters in California delivered their own verdict by booting him from office.
With 100% of Santa Clara County precincts reporting, 60% of voters said Persky should be removed from the bench. About 40% said he should keep his job.
Those unofficial results might not include all absentee ballots, but top Persky supporters already started conceding defeat after Tuesday’s referendum.
By late Tuesday night, the gap was so wide that retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, a leading member of the No Recall of Judge Persky campaign, said the group realized “we could not close the gap.”
“You can call it,” Cordell told CNN Wednesday.
She said once the election is certified, Persky will no longer be a judge. This marks the first time since 1932 that California voters have recalled a sitting judge.
Persky gained national notoriety in June 2016 when he sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman, a sentence many argued was far too lenient.
As election results came in, the chairwoman of the Recall Judge Aaron Persky campaign, Michele Dauber, said the votes “mirror what we heard while we were out talking to voters.”
“We are thankful for our supporters and every person who donated their time; it truly made a difference,” Dauber said.
Judge said recall would set a dangerous precedent
Persky has not spoken publicly since Tuesday’s referendum. But in a rare interview with CNN last week, he said a recall wouldn’t just harm him, it would set a dangerous precedent for judges in the future.
“I think generally judges should accept criticism,” Persky said. “They should accept responsibility for rulings. But when it gets to the step of a recall — actually recalling a judge primarily based on one decision — that, for me, is a step too far.
“That’s why I’ve chosen to speak out because I think it threatens the independence of judges in California and perhaps even the nation.”
Though unable to speak about the Turner case because it remains under appeal, Persky has not indicated he would have done anything differently.
Prosecutors had asked for a six-year prison sentence. But Persky sided with a recommendation from the county probation department, which said “when compared to other crimes of similar nature” the Turner case “may be considered less serious due to (his) level of intoxication.”
‘Such an egregious crime’
Critics immediately pounced and accused Persky of going easy on Turner because of his commonalities with the defendant. Like Turner, Persky was a Stanford athlete. (He played lacrosse.)
Matthew Kells posted a sign in front of his house reading, “Vote yes to recall Judge Persky.”
He said he was disgusted that Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and received only a six-month sentence.
“I felt like that (sentence) was just not a right response for it. This was such an egregious crime,” Kells said.
Still, the case may have faded from the national spotlight had it not been for the emotionally searing letter the victim read to Turner at sentencing. Within days, it went viral on the internet.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” the letter began.
“You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman,’ 10 syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was.”
Critics of Persky, who has been on the bench since 2003, found it ironic that his judicial background also included work as a sex crimes prosecutor.
In other words, he helped incarcerate people like Turner, 22, who now lives near Dayton, Ohio, and is required to register annually for life as a sex offender.