Nearly 100,000 Santa Clara County voters signed a petition to put the recall of Judge Persky on the June 5 ballot. We believe Persky should be replaced with a new judge because he has a pattern of bias in favor of privileged perpetrators in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and child pornography.
The most notorious case was Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Persky sentenced Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a frat party. The victim, "Emily Doe," grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Gunn. A jury convicted Turner on three felony counts, including assault with intent to rape and sexual penetration of an unconscious and intoxicated person. Turner faced 14 years in prison for his crimes — he only served 90 days.
For women in Santa Clara County, Brock Turner's sentence isn't just shocking, it's dangerous. It reinforces the myth that sexual assault is not a serious crime. It discourages victims from coming forward to seek justice when even a jury verdict results in a slap on the wrist.
That's why recall supporters include over 50 elected officials in Santa Clara County and beyond, including U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, State Senators Jerry Hill and Jim Beall, five Congressmen, civil rights leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Anita Hill, and organizations including the National Organization for Women and the California Nurses Association.
Even judges and lawyers opposed to the recall harshly criticize the Turner sentence. Former Judge Ron del Pozzo, recently retired after 15 years on the bench, said the expected sentence would have been 4-6 years. He called six months in jail "inconsistent with the jury verdict based on other people who have been tried for similar offenses and sentenced for similar offenses" in this county. According to Del Pozzo, "You see people get a year for the first residential burglary without any history. You see people get a year for having several DUIs behind them and having a fourth."
Former Judge LaDoris Cordell, also a Persky supporter, called the sentence an example of "white privilege." Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the Berkeley Law School labeled it an "abuse of discretion." District Attorney Jeff Rosen, saying he "lacked confidence" that Persky could "fairly participate" in another case of sexual assault of an unconscious victim, disqualified Persky from that case.
Persky only sentenced approximately 64 cases involving sex crimes and violence against women during his 19 months in felony court. Many of those cases show a similar bias.
For example, Foothill College football player Ikaika Gunderson was convicted of felony domestic violence for beating and choking his former girlfriend and pushing her headfirst out of a car. Persky abused his discretion to allow Gunderson to move to Hawaii to play college football with no probation or monitoring and without notifying Hawaii, in violation of state and federal law. Gunderson was then rearrested for domestic violence in a third state.
In another case, a Sunnyvale man named Robert Chain was convicted of felony child pornography for possessing dozens of images of little girls in sexual situations, including an infant. Persky sentenced Chain to only four days in jail rather than the six-month sentence dispensed by other judges in this county. Persky made the plea offer, not the DA. Persky also said he would be "receptive" to reducing the felony to a misdemeanor after only a year, contrary to the probation recommendation. Another Persky supporter, a public defender, called the sentence "eye-raising" and said it is appropriate for offenses like disturbing the peace or public intoxication, not felony child porn.
In other cases, Persky:
* Adjusted the sentence of another college football player convicted of domestic violence to accommodate his football schedule;
* Sentenced an engineer to weekend jail for severely beating his fiancee.
* In a civil trial, allowed De Anza College baseball players accused of committing the gang rape to show the jury photos taken months later of the teenaged victim in a skimpy outfit, supposedly to prove she didn't suffer from trauma. The victim's lawyers said that they believed Persky "favored" the perpetrators.
Persky's response to the recall echoes this record. He hired Donald Trump's Arizona state director, Brian Seitchik, for his campaign. Seitchik has a history of anti-choice, anti-immigrant and anti-labor campaigns. Not surprisingly, the Persky campaign — in venues including debates, endorsement interviews and media appearances — has repeatedly blamed the victim in the Turner case, justifying the lenient sentence by pointing to the fact that Emily Doe was highly intoxicated.
Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will not come forward if they think they will be blamed for the crimes committed against them. They will not seek justice if the result of a long process of medical examinations, invasive questions and humiliating testimony is a slap on the wrist for their victimizers.
Opponents of the recall are often harsh critics of Persky's decisions, but they say that recalls threaten "judicial independence" and should be reserved for judges who violate the law. Persky did violate federal and state law when he sent a convicted felon to Hawaii to play football without even notifying that state.
But the larger point is that judges are elected officials under the California Constitution, which gives to voters the power to elect judges and to recall them. That's why the nonpartisan California Constitution Center concluded that judicial recalls are part of our constitutional mechanism for balancing the competing value sets of independence and accountability. The Persky campaign's radical view that elected judges are unaccountable to voters for their decision-making is anti-democratic and contrary the California Constitution.
Santa Clara County voters have a right to judges who take sexual violence seriously, and they have a right to express that value at the ballot box. We expect they will do that on June 5 and replace Persky with a judge who will better protect our community.
Gary Kremen is a director, Santa Clara Valley Water District Board. Margaret Abe-Koga is a Mountain View City Council member. Kenneth Dauber is president and Jennifer DiBrienza is vice-president of the PAUSD Board of Education.