SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KTVU) - Several important elections are hanging in the balance with Tuesday’s state-wide primary. But perhaps one of the most closely watched is the effort to remove a sitting Santa Clara County Superior Court judge.
The “Recall Persky” movement started shortly after that judge sentenced a former Stanford swimmer to six months in jail for a sexual assault conviction. Now, the sentence, and the judge who imposed it, have become symbols of two sides locked in an ideological struggle.
In Mountain View Monday evening, retired Superior Court judge LaDoris Cordell leads a four corners full court press. At Villa and Castro Streets, activists opposed to the recall effort against Judge Aaron Persky are pounding pavement, pressing palms, and trying to sway voters.
“This is democracy. This is exactly what democracy is about. Informing the electorate. And we’re just trying to inform as many people as we can,” said Judge Cordell in between brief conversations with voters who walked down the street.
About 15 miles to the south, in San Jose, Stanford law professor Michele Dauber prepares for the final push in her war camp. She too wants to inform the electorate, but in the opposite way.
“We’re not taking a single vote for granted. We’re not making predictions about anything. We’re just gonna keep working, keep talking to voters,” said Dauber.
Since 2016, the word from Dauber and company has been to have Aaron Persky recalled, something that hasn’t happened to a sitting California judge since 1932. The impetus for the movement sparked after Persky sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexual assault. Dauber and the committee to remove Persky say the sentence was too lenient, and shows bias toward the wealthy, and against victims of sex crimes.
“The message of this campaign, we need judges who understand sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence. That has really resonated with voters of this county.”
For his part, Persky says he followed the recommendations of the probation department, and the law. At a May 30 rally in Downtown San Jose, Persky said, “We need to empower judges to follow the rule of law, not public opinion.”
His defenders say recalling a sitting judge because a ruling is unpopular threatens judicial independence..
“We’re asking people to think critically, look at the facts. You don’t run a democracy on based emotion and based on dishonesty. You have a successful democracy when you have critical thinking and it’s factual based when you make your decision about voting,” said Cordell.
With hours to go, each sides hopes it will be able to help voters see the facts as they present them, which will either unseat or retain a sitting judge.
KTVU will be watching as the votes start to come in Tuesday in this recall effort. Another important contest is the race for Santa Clara County sheriff. Incumbent Laurie Smith seeks an unprecedented sixth term. But she faces stiff opposition from her former undersheriff, John Hirokawa.