"It's not always popular, but it's the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or my opinions as a former prosecutor".
While the now-famous 2016 sentencing hearing happened before the #MeToo movement took hold over the country, ballots cast Tuesday were made in the backdrop of the movement, which has emboldened sexual assault survivors and forced criminal investigations and oustings of powerful men, most notably with Harvey Weinstein. The Bay Area women who led the grassroots campaign to remove the judge formed a Recall Persky coalition about two years ago and devoted thousands of hours to the cause, with Stanford professor Michele Dauber at the helm.
The election results close the book on a divisive campaign that raised hard questions about how the judicial system handles violence against women, how the public views judicial decision-making and independence and how judges under political fire should respond. Prosecutors had wanted a lengthy prison sentence for Turner in the sexual assault of a young woman incapacitated by alcohol.
Nearly exactly two years ago, Persky sentenced Turner to just six months behind bars after he was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a campus frat party. He is no longer eligible for USA Swimming membership, and he will have to register as a sex offender for life (though he recently appealed his conviction with the hope of overturning that requirement). The recall effort was spearheaded by Stanford law professor Michelle Dauber.
The victim, known as Emily Doe, had an impassioned letter be read to the court on her behalf. The recall campaign launched shortly afterward. But when it gets to the step of a recall-actually recalling a judge primarily based on one decision-that, for me, is a step too far.
"I think generally judges should accept criticism", Persky said. But the successful recall of Judge Aaron Persky Tuesday for that controversial sentence could have a chilling effect on other judges who make hard decisions.
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Cindy Seeley Hendrickson, the candidate she endorsed in a separate two-way race to succeed Persky, was leading with 70 per cent of the vote.
"Winning is never as important as doing the right thing", retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, one of the most prominent voices against the recall, lamented on Facebook Wednesday. The state's Commission on Judicial Performance said there was no pattern of bias or misconduct by Persky.
While a gender breakdown of the final vote has not yet been revealed, a poll in late May by a local San Francisco TV station found that women strongly supported the recall effort. He has taken to working nights from his house, according to a spokesman for his court.
"I expected some negative reaction", Persky told AP. "It sort of corroborates the evidence of his character up until the night of this incident, which has been positive", Persky said of the "evidence". In response to the public outcry, the California legislature revised their penal code to require that judges must give those convicted of sexual assault actual prison time rather than probation or jail.
Dauber, who said she has faced considerable backlash for speaking out against Stanford University and the case over the last two years, said she'll continue the fight. But what bothers me even more is the long-term effect this recall will have on future court sentencing.