Just days before Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky is set to be reassigned from criminal cases and before former Stanford University student-athlete Brock Turner will be released from jail, the embattled judge has spoken publicly for the first time -- in a statement posted on the website for a newly launched "Retain Judge Persky" campaign.
"I believe strongly in judicial independence," Persky's statement begins. "I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues.When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence."
Persky's campaign, officially named "Retain Judge Persky -- No Recall," is a response to the high-profile effort seeking to unseat him in a November 2017 special election. His campaign is already on display in the courtroom, where on Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, he announced that he intends to post on his podium a list of attorneys who have contributed to his campaign to comply with the California Code of Civil Procedure and Judicial Ethics Canon. The list will be updated and displayed during each of Persky's court sessions.
On Wednesday, contributors included Ed Samuels $250; Alan Lagod, $500; Sam Polverino, $250; Gary Goodman, $250; Barbara Muller, $250; Stefan Kennedy, $250; Mondonna Mostofi, $250; Ron Rayes, $250; Daniel Barton, $300; Blair Walsh, $250; Charles Smith, $500 and John Cahners, $309.
The Recall Persky campaign, led by Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, has raised more than $250,000 so far in donations and pledges -- from more than 2,000 individuals and with most under $100, Dauber said -- and attracted endorsements from various groups including the National Organization for Women and The National Women's Political Caucus of Silicon Valley, as well as national and local elected officials.
Dauber told the Weekly Tuesday that she is "glad the political campaign is underway" and looks forward to giving voters the opportunity to judge Persky's record, which she said demonstrates "a longstanding pattern of judicial bias in favor of privileged and white defendants."
Bias, she added, is "destructive ultimately to not just judicial independence but to the rule of law itself.
"When people don't have access to an unbiased decision maker, they lose faith not only in that tribunal but in the entire legal system. Bias is very corrosive," she said.
Persky's campaign website includes links to statements from supporters and those who have spoken out publicly in defense of judicial independence, including a group of retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judges, the Santa Clara County Bar Association, the California Judges Association and retired Stanford law professor Barbara Babcock.
One of the retired judges, LaDoris Cordell, who has publicly said she disagrees with the Turner sentence, wrote in an email to the Weekly Tuesday that she nonetheless opposes the recall. She called it an "abuse of the recall process" and a threat to judicial independence.
"If it succeeds, then judges will be looking over their shoulders before making any sentencing decisions, for fear of being targeted by someone who doesn't like their rulings," Cordell said. "I believe that the recall process should be utilized to remove judges who have a demonstrated record of abusing and/or misusing their authority or who have a history of making unlawful or biased decisions. Judge Persky does not have such a record."
She said she was pleased to see Persky "stepping up to oppose the recall," pointing to the effect that foregoing that decision had on former state Chief Justice Rose Bird, whom voters recalled in 1986. Persky has not asked Cordell for an endorsement or contribution, she said.
In the coming months, Cordell said it will be important for voters to familiarize themselves with Persky's background and decisions -- "all of them" -- and they "should not rely on the misguided rhetoric of those who are on a mission to remove Judge Persky."
"Voters should consider if they want to set a precedent that will drastically impact the independence of their judiciary," Cordell wrote. "It is my hope that they will elect not to set such a precedent."
The Retain Judge Persky website notes his 20-year record as a prosecutor and judge, an award he received for his work on hate crimes and, in his own words, his "reputation for being fair to both sides."
The campaign launch follows Persky's recent request to no longer hear criminal cases. He will be reassigned to civil matters in San Jose starting Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Last week, Persky recused himself from presiding over a hearing in a child-pornography case, citing publicity that "resulted in a personal family situation such that a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial."
In recent weeks, the recall campaign has put out press releases stating that Persky's handling of other sex-crime cases is evidence of his alleged bias. Recall campaign members criticized Persky's four-day sentencing of a plumber who pleaded guilty to a felony child-pornography charge, as well as his decision to delay sentencing for a Foothill College football player, who pleaded no contest to a felony count of domestic violence, so he could attend and play football for the University of Hawaii, according to the recall campaign.
Critics also decried Persky's decision to sentence an immigrant from El Salvador who admitted to sexually assaulting his roommate to three years in state prison, though Persky's supporters warned it was misleading and "inflammatory" to compare the case with Turner's.
Persky is barred from commenting on open cases.
Reporter Sue Dremann contributed to this story.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created Storify pages to capture ongoing coverage of the Brock Turner case as well as sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view them, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.