Santa Clara County voters have recalled Judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85, who raised national controversy after sentencing former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexual assault of an unconscious woman. Persky is the first California judge to be recalled since 1932.
Results late Tuesday night showed 43 percent of precincts reporting and 59 percent of voters supporting the recall.
Persky will be immediately replaced by Cindy Hendrickson ’87, an assistant district attorney who supported the recall effort.
“It has always been part of my job to be fair and objective in evaluating cases,” Hendrickson told The Daily in March. “As the DA, once you become convinced that the evidence paints a certain picture, you may advocate for that position, but in terms of evaluating a case every step along the way, you have an absolute obligation to be fair to the defendant and be objective in your evaluation of the evidence.”
Proponents of the recall movement, spearheaded by Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber, argued that Persky’s rulings showed a pattern of bias toward male athletes and against female victims of abuse and sexual violence.
“The voters of Santa Clara County are the winners of this election,” Dauber wrote in a statement to The Daily. “We voted today against impunity for high status perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence. We voted that sexual violence is serious and it must be taken seriously by our elected officials. In this historical moment, when women’s rights are under attack, the women and many men of this county stood our ground.”
Cases the recall campaign cited as problematic include a four-day sentence for possession of images showing sexual abuse of children and Persky’s decision to let an athlete defer his domestic violence sentence to play football.
It was Persky’s sentence for Turner, though, that embroiled him in public debate. Turner was convicted in March of 2016 on three counts for sexual assault at a January 2015 party outside Stanford’s Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“Persky has repeatedly abused his discretion on behalf of abusers,” Dauber told The Daily last month. “As a result, voters in this county have lost confidence in his ability to be fair.”
Opponents of the recall — among them, many of Dauber’s colleagues at Stanford Law — have contested characterizations of Persky as biased, saying that the judge has generally followed the probation officer’s recommendations and that the recall would jeopardize judicial independence. They contend that judges should remain relatively insulated from public opinion that could push them toward harsher sentencing.
“I think judges typically should accept criticism of their decisions,” Persky said in a press conference last month at which he gave his first public remarks on the recall effort. “It’s legitimate, it’s an absolutely justified avenue of public discourse. We should sit, we should listen, we should take it … But the recall takes it one step too far. The recall, if successful, threatens the integrity of our justice system, and it demands a response.”
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford Law professor and vocal opponent of the recall, has in the past voiced concerns that the Recall Aaron Persky campaign might be construed as the stance of Stanford Law because of its visibility.
LaDoris Cordell, a vocal defender of Persky, called Tuesday a “sad day for the California judiciary.”
“Most of all we are grateful to the voters of Santa Clara County,” Dauber wrote. “We have won this fight because the people of this county stood up and said Enough is Enough.”
This report will be updated as additional details come to light.
Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu and Courtney Douglas at ccdouglas ‘at’ stanford.edu.