SAN JOSE, Calif. - Shortly after he sentenced then-Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an intoxicated, unconscious woman outside a frat party two years ago, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky has been the subject of a recall campaign.
Leading the charge against the judge for his perceived bias toward "perpetrators of privilege," has been Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber. She was able to gather 95,000 signatures to place a recall effort on the June 5 ballot.
Persky has had his share of supporters, though. But they haven't grabbed as many headlines as those who want to oust him. But the voices of support have been growing louder in the last several months.
One of the most high-profile and outspoken Persky cheerleaders is one of his former colleagues, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell.
On the surface, Cordell is an unlikely supporter: She's a progressive, African-American feminist who believes that taking this particular white man off the bench will actually do more harm for racial justice.
Persky asked Cordell to speak for him on his behalf, when the New York Times first called earlier this month, because judges are not allowed to speak about pending cases and the Turner case is on appeal.
But "I am not his mouthpiece," Cordell told KTVU. "I don't what he tells me to do. But I know that this recall is wrong-headed."
One of Cordell's main points is that the judge handed down Turner's sentence at the probation department’s recommendation, which judges tend to follow.
Cordell's other main point is allowing a judge his or her own discretion within the law. Cordell said that while she personally would have imposed a harsher sentence on Turner, recalling a judge for "unpopular decisions," threatens the willingness of all judges in the future to give "individual consideration" -- meaning possibly more lenient and less thoughtful sentences -- to defendants, many of whom will inevitably be low income and people of color.
"Without discretion, we are left with cookie cutter justice that imposes mandatory sentences, without any regard for the defendants’ circumstances. ..If Judge Persky is recalled, trial judges in Santa Clara County, and throughout the State of California, will be looking over their shoulders, testing the winds before rendering their decisions," Cordell wrote in a September opinion piece in Silicon Valley DeBug, called "Why the recall of Judge Persky is terrible for racial justice." "By sending a message that unpopular decisions may lead to a recall, the campaign threatens the willingness of judges to give individual consideration to defendants at their sentencings. Should this recall succeed in removing a judge for making an unpopular decision, it will be harder for low-income defendants, most of whom are of color, and harder for those who advocate for them, to receive judicial consideration of mitigating circumstances. I’m not just making this up. Several empirical studies have concluded that judges impose harsher sentences when pressured by elections, and that these effects are concentrated on defendants of color."
Dauber vehemently disagreed.
In an email statement to KTVU on Monday, Dauber wrote that "Judge Persky did not just make a single bad decision. He made a slew of bad decisions involving sex crimes and violence against women. And his supporters, including Judge LaDoris Cordell, know that."
Dauber's email continued: Cordell "contends that the recall will hurt judicial independence and also cause more incarceration of people of color. Neither of these is true. First of all, judges in California are elected. As such they are not fully independent, as in the federal system. They are accountable to the people they serve. That is why the independent, nonpartisan Center on the California Constitution reviewed the question of judicial recalls and concluded that they do not reduce judicial independence in California because they are an infrequently used mechanism for balancing competing value sets of independence and accountability. Second, everyone connected to this campaign supports criminal justice reform. Many of this campaign's leaders and elected endorsers are people of color, such as Senate Pro Tem President Kevin De Leon and Congressman Ro Khanna. We do not have to choose between justice for women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence, especially women from marginalized communities, and reforming the criminal justice system. Both are important. Our campaign is very clearly about ending impunity for high status offenders like Mr. Turner. I am confident that judges are smart enough to tell the difference between high status, white, college athletes convicted of sex crimes and poor minority drug and non-violent offenders."
Both Cordell and Dauber will be speaking at 5 p.m. Monday at the South Bay Labor Council.