Ousted judge Aaron Persky has been ordered to pay $161,825 to the attorney who represented pro bono the campaign that successfully recalled Persky in the June election.
Kay Tsenin, a retired San Francisco judge brought in to hear the case, ruled in the recall campaign's favor in a Monday hearing in San Jose, Fredric Woocher of Los Angeles firm Strumwasser & Woocher confirmed.
Campaign chair and Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber filed a motion in June, arguing that she is "entitled to an award of attorneys' fees for successfully defending the validity of the recall petition and thereby vindicating the constitutional right of recall of tens of thousands of Santa Clara County residents and voters."
The motion fell under a California statute that allows a successful party to be reimbursed by the opposing litigant for attorney's fees if the case enforces "an important right affecting the public interest."
Persky's lawyers argued that there was no need for a private attorney in this case and that his defense "had no practical effect" on the June 5 recall vote, legal documents show.
Dauber initially requested Persky pay the $112,456 the campaign incurred in attorneys' fees and out-of-pocket expenses to respond to legal challenges the former judge filed during the recall effort. The amount increased to cover fees Woocher incurred working on this motion.
Woocher said he offered to settle the fees at the outset of the case but Persky and his attorneys "were not interested" and "vigorously opposed" Dauber's motion.
In a statement, one of Persky's lawyers, Elizabeth Pipkin of San Jose firm McManis Faulkner said, "it is unfortunate that this coincides with the loss of his job as a distinguished jurist."
McManis Faulkner represented Persky for free, she said.
Santa Clara County voters recalled Persky in the June 5 election after a contentious, divisive campaign that drew national attention. Months before, Persky sought to block the recall by arguing the secretary of state, rather than the county Registrar of Voters, should oversee the recall, and that the replacement for a recalled judge should be appointed by the governor rather than elected. A judge ultimately ruled against him.
Woocher said his firm agreed to represent the recall campaign free of charge "with the understanding that we would be entitled to seek our attorney's fees" and the "fairly certain" belief that they would ultimately succeed. About half of his firm's litigation are public-interest cases where they charge no or reduced fees, he said.
Woocher noted that Persky's lawsuit included the same claim for recouping attorney's fees if he were to prevail.
"We're very hopeful that it's over now," Woocher told the Weekly. "We just want what we think the law entitles us to and what he asked for when he thought he was going to win the case."