SAN JOSE, Calif. - In less than a week, Santa Clara County voters decide if a sitting judge should lose or keep his job. On Wednesday, parties for and against recalling Judge Aaron Persky, who gave a controversial sentence to a former Stanford athlete in a sexual assault case, held rallies miles apart in San Jose.
If it seems political discourse is descending into a screaming match, consider this case-in-point. Proponents of the “Recall Persky” effort verbally jousted with a heckler, while simultaneously trying to hold a rally.
“This is about letting victims have peace, justice and to be supported and to know the community stands behind them,” said Esther Peralez-Dieckmann of Next Door Solutions, a sex assault advocacy group.
The lone wolf causing a disruption was Steve White. He interrupted speakers and clashed with San Jose police officers.
“No one here is fighting. Persky’s silence for almost two years has done him a great deal of damage,” said White, as protesters started to gather around him and held signs in front of his face.
A few miles away, Persky and his supporters continued damage control efforts. They held a rally of their own outside the Santa Clara County office building. Persky implores county residents to vote “no” June 5 on the recall effort against him.
“We need to empower judges to follow the rule of public opinion,” said Persky, speaking to reporters for the second time in the month of May.
Public opinion swung heavily against the judge two years ago. He sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail after the former Stanford swimmer was convicted on three counts of sexual assault of a woman dubbed “Emily Doe.”
“His lawyer, Jim McManis, said Emily doe wasn’t really attacked [and] implied that she was at fault for being intoxicated,” said Prof. Michele Dauber, chairwoman of the Committee to Recall Persky.
Dauber says the offensive comments, quoted in a Vogue Magazine article, have given new fire in the fiercely contested debate -- should Persky keep his seat, or be sent packing?
“Every time they blamed the victim, they are giving a silent nod of assent to my rapist. And reinforcing the destructive belief that I was in any way to blame,” said Sita Stukes, a rape survivor who attended the pro-recall rally.
Those against the recall say removing a sitting judge who followed the law could undermine our system of law.
“It’s a war on the judiciary. And it’s not going to stop,” said San Jose Civil Attorney Amy Carlson, who attended the no-recall rally. Added Santa Clara County district attorney Jeff Rosen, “He made a lawful decision. I think it was the wrong one. I think what needed to happen was for the law to change, which we’ve now changed it.”
Now, two factions are making a final push to convince all who’ll listen that their view is the right view.
“Given public backlash over an opinion, should a judge reconsider? Well, as I’ve explained, public opinion can’t play a factor in a judge’s decisions,” said Judge Persky.
Voters will determine how much of a role public opinion plays in Persky’s fight to keep his job. Both sides in this debate are bracing for a final push before polls open June 5.