BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Two months after Judge Aaron Persky was recalled from the Santa Clara County bench, 30 judges and legal professionals have teamed up to make it harder for voters to remove a judge.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund, the co-chair of the newly launched Judicial Fairness Coalition, said the group wants to educate the public on the role of judges and look at amending state law to avoid future recalls over unpopular decisions.
“There should be a requirement of misconduct in office, either high crimes, misdemeanors, violating the Code of Judicial Ethics, hearing a case where you have a conflict,” Kronlund said. “It seems to me that makes a lot more sense than what we’ve got going on right now.”
Kronlund has been giving talks to Rotary and Kiwanis groups about the dangers of “baseless” attacks on judges since 2006, after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster faced a recall threat from gay marriage opponents over his ruling in favor of same-sex domestic partnerships.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo, co-chair of the new coalition and president of the California Judges Association, said he also wanted to look into changing the code of judicial conduct to loosen up the restrictions on judges talking about their cases.
That would allow judges to respond to criticism of their decisions, which Persky wasn’t able to do when opponents slammed him over the six-month jail sentence he gave to Stanford sex assailant Brock Turner.
Bacigalupo said the group formed in response to “increased attacks on the independence of the judiciary, the role of decision making and a misunderstanding about the role of a judge and the judicial system.”
For Bacigalupo and Kronlund, that includes the Persky recall, which was the first successful judicial recall in California since 1932. Kronlund said the group should have formed sooner, but that many in the legal profession thought a recall wouldn’t succeed in California.
“What we saw with the Persky recall effort was an unprecedented attack on a judge whose decisions were found to be lawful,” Bacigalupo said. “There were many judges and other leaders, bar leaders and community leaders, who felt that it was an inappropriate attack on the independence of the judiciary.”
The coalition held its first teleconference meeting on Aug. 9 and counts among its founding members law school deans, professors, business leaders, bar associations, the American Board of Trial Lawyers, the National Association of Women Judges and current and retired judges, including retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell of Palo Alto.
Persky’s ouster inspires recall
No judges are up for recall on November ballots in the Bay Area, but last week, a San Francisco mother filed a notice of intent to collect signatures to oust three judges in Contra Costa County.
Michelle Chan, the founder and president of Parents Against CPS Corruption, said her recall effort was “definitely inspired by the Persky recall.”
“It’s about democracy. It’s about returning, you know, restoring justice to the people in a systems where abuses of power have become rampant,” Chan said.
Chan wants to recall Contra Costa County Superior Court judges Rebecca Hardie, Jill Fannin and Lois Haight in response to what she claims are widespread injustices. She also wants to target San Francisco Superior Court Judge Susan Breall.
Chan would need to collect about 84,000 signatures to get the Contra Costa recalls on the ballot in a future election.
Child custody decision
Chan wrote in a column for the San Francisco Bayview newspaper in April about her experience losing custody of her son in a bitter family law case heard by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Nancy Davis, who has since retired.
“The Persky recall was about one case and one specific issue,” Chan said. “Our recall is about a pattern and systemic corruption in a certain system. It’s not just four judges we’re recalling.”
Kronlund shrugged off efforts like Chan’s. Scorned parents have gone after family law judges for years, she said.
“Family law by its very nature deals with high emotions, and judges who are in those assignments make very unpopular decisions for 50% of the litigants because one side wins and one side loses,” Kronlund said. “We have to let the chips fall where they may.”