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.
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.
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
Correction: California’s sex assault law requires Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that Judge Aaron Persky decided to impose a lifetime registration requirement on Turner. That lifetime requirement was mandatory, and the judge had no choice in the matter.
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
• Our recommendations on the five state ballot propositions