Judicial Group Calls Judge Recall an Affront to Democracy

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (CN) – A judicial advocacy organization condemned the recall of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky on Wednesday, saying it compromises judicial independence and impairs American democracy.

“The recall represents a serious assault on judicial independence, a development of deep concern to judges and attorneys throughout California,” the California Judges Association said in a statement.

The association, founded in 1966, advocates for an impartial judiciary in California. It also offers judges ethics training, education and other tools.

The association criticized the effort to recall Persky leading up to and after the June 6 election, in which 59 percent of voters in Santa Clara County cast ballots in favor of removing Persky from office, according to recent tabulations.

It marks the first recall of a judge in California since 1932.

Persky ignited controversy after he sentenced Stanford student Brock Turner to six months in jail, three years probation and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Turner was arrested after two women on bicycles found him atop an unconscious woman. Turner fled, but the bicyclists followed him.

Turner said the sexual encounter was consensual and occurred after both he and Emily Doe – as she is referred to in court papers – consumed alcohol at a campus fraternity party.

Many viewed the six-month sentence – of which Turner served only three – as too lenient, saying it reflected a dismissive attitude about sexual assault on college campuses, as well as judicial bias toward those who are wealthy and privileged.

Turner’s crime carried a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor whose daughter was friends with Emily Doe, led the recall effort in Santa Clara County and expressed satisfaction about the vote’s outcome on June 6.

“To girls everywhere, this campaign is with you,” Dauber said as the results trickled in last Tuesday night.

While some in progressive circles hailed the recall as a sign that attitudes toward campus sexual assault are changing, others caution the recall is an attack on the judiciary and a dangerous politicization of judge sentencing that could have unintended consequences.

John Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham University, also criticized the recall in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday.

“The recall will make judges more punitive, thwart progress toward scaling back mass incarceration and — though Turner and Persky are both white — hurt minorities disproportionately,” Pfaff wrote.

Pfaff and other recall critics point to an apparent inconsistency within progressive circles, which advocate for criminal justice reform – including bail system overhauls, less crowded jails, greater police accountability and more lenient sentencing – while also seeking to oust judges who go too easy on criminals.

The California Judges Association is less concerned with such consistency and more concerned about the impacts to impartiality.

“Judges must make decisions every day that are unpopular with one group or another or with politically powerful individuals,” the association said on Wednesday. “Recall by the electorate must be reserved to remedy those rare situations where a judge has committed malfeasance while in office, whether it be unethical or criminal behavior.”

The association noted that Persky followed the law in applying the sentence and that those unhappy with the lenient sentence have since successfully lobbied state legislators to require state prison sentences for those convicted of crimes similar to Turner’s.

For the California Judges Association, the political fallout should be relegated to legislative bodies, while judges should be left independent from that process.

“All citizens should be troubled by the politicization of our courts,” the association said. “The rule of law — preservation of an impartial judiciary as a check upon the two partisan political branches — is the bedrock for our entire system of government.”

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