Editorial: Vote ‘no’ on recall of Judge Persky

Judge Aaron Persky

DAILY POST EDITORIAL

There’s more at stake in the recall election of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky than the six-month jail sentence he gave to Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexual assault.

The sentence was tremendously unpopular and disappointing.

The victim’s moving statement focused national attention on the Turner sentence. It was posted online by BuzzFeed and it fueled a backlash that coincided with the burgeoning Me Too movement.

The Post was the first newspaper to call for Persky’s removal from office. We said on June 6, 2016, that the six-month sentence diminished the seriousness of the offense, and we still believe that is true.

A lynch-mob movement

But we never anticipated that the campaign to remove Persky would result in a lynch-mob movement that threatens the independence of the judiciary.

In deciding whether to recall Persky, a voter should ask two questions:

1. Was the sentence within the law?

2. If it was, then what should be done about it?

When it came time to sentence Turner, Judge Persky received two recommendations. The prosecutor asked for six years in prison. But a female probation officer recommended six months, noting that Turner was a first-time offender and that he showed remorse.

Persky accepted the probation officer’s recommendation, as judges often do.

Persky also required Turner to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

This newspaper, expressing outrage over the six-month sentence, urged readers to file complaints against the judge with the California Commission on Judicial Performance, the agency that investigates judges for ethical violations. The commission was flooded with thousands of complaints.

On Dec. 19, 2016, the commission, after reviewing the case, said Persky’s decision was within the “parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge’s discretion.”

It found no evidence of bias in the judge’s conduct.

That brings us to the second question — since the sentence was legal, what should be done about it?

The most obvious answer is to change the law, and that’s exactly what happened.

In September 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills that will require longer sentences in state prison for defendants convicted of assaulting unconscious victims, ending the possibility of brief jail sentences like the one Turner received. The bills also expanded the definition of rape to include all forms of non-consensual assault, not just “an act of sexual intercourse.”

For those who wanted reform, it’s happened. There won’t be another sentence like the one Brock Turner got.

We’ve now changed our view about whether Persky ought to be recalled, and here’s why.

Judicial independence

We don’t want judges to be influenced by public opinion. We want judges to follow the law. We don’t want them to worry before they make a decision about what people will say about them on Twitter or Facebook.

If Persky is recalled, other judges will start worrying that they’ll be next. They’ll conform their decisions to what they think the public wants, not what the law says. The crowd with the torches and pitchforks will win.

While the Turner sentence was a grievous mistake, it would be an even greater mistake to give up the concept of an independent judiciary. For that reason, we ask you to vote “no” on the recall.

• • •

If Persky is recalled, there are two well-qualified candidates running to replace him. Of the two, the Post is recommending Cindy Hendrickson. All Santa Clara County voters, whether they vote “yes” or “no” on the recall, can vote for a replacement.

— Dave Price, Editor

Other recommendations for the June 5 primary:
Re-elect Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
Carlos Bolanos for San Mateo County Sheriff
Re-elect San Mateo County Judge Gerald Buchwald
Nancy Magee for San Mateo County school superintendent
Re-elect Mark Church as San Mateo County assessor, clerk, recorder and elections officer
Re-elect San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley
Vote “no” on the toll hike, Regional Measure 3

16 Comments

  1. It’s good to see the editor had the courage to change his mind. I agree with him that we don’t want our judges to become politicians who make their decisions based on who is up or down in the polls. Vote NO on the recall.

  2. THANK YOU, Mr. Price, for having the courage to acknowledge this change of heart publicly, and to articulate your reasoning. This is the kind of thoughtful civil dialogue we so desperately need.

  3. The fact California law requires the election of judges and subjects them to threat of recall makes a farce of claims the effort to dump Persky threatens the “independence” of the judiciary. True independence for state judges can only be achieved by lifetime appointments, as in the federal system. I have yet to hear anyone on either side of this argument offer up that somewhat scary idea.

  4. We do not want judges to be influenced by the privileged status of rapists, pedophiles, and domestic abusers!

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH; VOTE YES! RECALL PERSKY!

  5. I get the feeling that the people pushing this recall don’t really care about the facts of the case, such as the fact that Persky sentenced Turner to the exact amount of time recommended by the Probation Department. I think one prominent proponent of the recall sees this campaign as a ticket to national stardom.

    If Persky was such a terrible judge, why didn’t anybody challenge him when he was up for re-election in 2016? If he had a pattern of unjust rulings, why wasn’t he challenged when he ran in 2004 and 2010?

  6. Congratulations to Dave Price for having the courage to change his mind about this important case. He listened to the facts and came up with a powerful argument against the recall. Bravo!

    • Judge Persky did not ignore the victim. He read portions of her statement at the sentencing hearing and empathized with her suffering. But victims don’t get to choose the defendant’s sentence. If they did, we’d need to build a lot more jails. The recall movement wants to treat criminal sentencing as a winner-take-all proposition.

  7. I think I am the ONLY person who has figured this out:

    1. The whole idea was to create a lynch mob mentality which would terrorize the judiciary.

    [Portion removed.]

    None of this had anything to do with Persky -Persky got a case Dauber INTENDED to turn into a cause – because more than anything else, a recall of Persky would destroy due process for accused men – and if you actually look closely at Dauber’s record at Stanford, what she has fought hardest against is not leniency – but due process – she PLANNED THIS WITH EMILY DOE – it was convenience and helpful Persky went to Stanford – but ANY judge wtih this case who followed the Probation recommendation would have been attacked – the point is NOT to get rid of “one bad apple” at all – it’s to SCARE ALL JUDGES INTO TOEING THE LINE.

  8. Takes courage to admit one’s error and correct it. Kudos to Dave Price for stepping up!
    Takes balance and judgment to report the facts and not fall into “camps”. Kudos to the reporter who has been impartial and balanced in her reporting!
    Keep up the good work, PA Daily Post!

    After due consideration of all facts I’m voting “No” on Recall.

  9. The California Commission on Judicial Performance is a total joke. They never discipline judges. They need to be audited in public and the investigators booted. Judges protect their own,

  10. I’m tired of hearing the pro-Recall campaign say that the supporters of Judge Persky are trying to eliminate the recall process. That’s a straw man argument that I saw somebody make today in another publication. Nobody I’ve seen who opposes this recall is saying that. What the recall’s opponents are saying is that a recall isn’t appropriate based on these facts —

    1. That Persky’s sentence was what the Probation Department recommended.

    2. He will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

    3. That recalling Persky would send a strong message to other judges that they need to make their sentences as long as possible if they want to keep their jobs.

    Nobody is saying that we should eliminate the recall process. It’s just not appropriate here.

  11. A few months ago, the list of the contributors to the recall campaign was published and they were mostly from outside our county. The campaign has succeeded in tapping the #metoo movement’s wallets. It’s too bad they weren’t required to raise the money locally. It would be a fairer fight.

    • Fairer, maybe, but still not fair – Persky is ethically bound from speaking about his cases, so he cannot defend himself when the other side distorts his record and intentionally misleads. The recall campaign has no such constraints.

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