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Santa Clara County Voters Will Decide Whether to Recall Judge Aaron Persky

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Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky was recalled in an election June 2018 after he sentenced an ex-Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. (Jason Doiy/The Recorder)

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved today putting a measure on the June 5 ballot on whether voters should recall Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who became controversial over a sentence he handed down to a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault.

Volunteers with the Recall Judge Aaron Persky campaign collected more than 94,000 signatures from county voters for the proposed recall. Those signatures were turned into the county Registrar of Voters for verification on Jan. 11 and passed the testing of a random sample of signatures by Jan. 23.

On Tuesday, seats in the Board of Supervisors chambers in San Jose were filled with community leaders who gave one-minute remarks on the proposal.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, chair of the recall campaign, noted that the reason why many people were there was because of the comments of Emily Doe, the victim of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner.

Persky came into the public spotlight after he sentenced Turner in 2016 to six months in Santa Clara County Jail. Turner's sentence was cut in half for good behavior, meaning he spent three months behind bars when he initially faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison.

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"When Emily Doe heard that Turner had been given a six-month sentence, she was 'struck silent,' " Dauber said. "But today, the voters of Santa Clara County have spoken loud and clear."

Los Gatos resident Leslie Logan discussed the image she felt was being painted of those who volunteered with the recall campaign, describing it as the "dismissive and often misogynistic representation of an uninformed, misguided, angry mob who couldn't possibly understand the intricacies of the criminal justice system."

Logan, a survivor of sexual assault, said that she stands with the recall because she understands the complexity of rape culture "all too well."

Santa Clara University law professor Margaret Russell spoke against the recall, saying there are women all over the political spectrum who are not misogynistic and respect sexual assault victims who are opposed to the recall.

"The effect of this kind of attack, not founded on facts, is to rack up sentences to encourage judges to look over their shoulders," Russell said.

Stan Voyles, a retired Santa Clara County prosecutor, scrutinized Dauber's background while speaking outside of the meeting room. Voyles said that Dauber had never handled a criminal case or been a part of a single bar organization.

"She's a bright lady, but unless you know how things operate in criminal courts, you really can't make an opinion about this stuff," Voyles said.

Voyles said the recall campaign comparing Turner's case and another case Persky handled, in which 32-year-old Raul Ramirez was given a three-year sentence, does not add up because they were convicted of different charges.

He said that Ramirez got the minimum mandatory sentence he could have received for his crime.

The recall campaign's official website mentions Ramirez's case, arguing that "Persky has a longstanding pattern of bias in favor of privileged defendants. Less privileged defendants evidently do not receive the same level of solicitude from him."

Voyles said his overall mission was "stopping the falsehoods that the recall campaign spread."

"Either they have no clue as to what is going on, or they are liars, or both," Voyles said.

Voyles did not speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

LaDoris Cordell, a civil rights advocate and retired judge, spoke in favor of Persky. She said that judges want to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing may be a more lenient option.

"If it's a sexual assault case, judges are now going to think twice about doing what they believe to be right in following the law because of fear that they're going to be targeted with misinformation, lies and distortion," Cordell said.

Cordell said that the six-month sentence recommendation that Persky received came from a female probation officer.

"The judge did not have to follow the recommendation, but he did what most county and state of California judges do and listened to it. This was within the law," Cordell said.

She said that Persky has not spoken out himself because by law he is not allowed to discuss active cases, and the Turner case is still in an appeals process right now.

Dauber spoke against the criticism that the recall campaign was becoming more about emotions and less about the facts.

"We were extremely detail-oriented and this campaign has been extensively reported by independent journalists," Dauber said.

Both campaigns plan on sending volunteers out to talk to voters about the recall measure in the next few months.

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