The group working to unseat Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky for alleged judicial bias has decided to delay placing a recall on the ballot until next summer given the cost of mounting a special election this November.
Palo Alto resident Michele Dauber, chair of the Recall Persky campaign and Stanford University law professor, said she "immediately" decided to postpone the campaign to June 2018 after learning recently about the difference in cost.
The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters estimates it would cost taxpayers about $6.9 million to hold a special recall election this fall, compared to $576,075 next summer.
The discrepancy in cost is because there are no other items slated for the November 2017 ballot, according to the Registrar, while there are at least three other countywide races scheduled for next June (for district attorney, sheriff and assessor).
Dauber said she believes that the new election date, while not the campaign's first choice, will not affect the outcome of the recall. She launched the recall movement last summer amid widespread furor over Persky's six-month sentencing of former Stanford student Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus. The recall campaign has since alleged that other sexual violence cases Persky oversaw demonstrate a bias for privileged, white defendants and against women and defendants of color.
"To me, there really wasn't a choice once we learned the cost differential," Dauber told the Weekly. "We're confident we're going to win whether this happens in November or June."
The recall campaign has raised more than $400,000 so far, Dauber said, and will start gathering the 58,634 voter signatures required to put the recall on the ballot early this summer. The campaign will have 160 calendar days to gather signatures, after meeting a series of requirements for its recall petition and securing approval from the county elections official, according to the Registrar.
Persky did not return a request for comment left for his court clerk in San Jose, where he now hears civil cases. Persky launched an official anti-recall campaign in September. His "Retain Judge Persky" website states he has a "reputation for being fair to both sides" and he "took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues."
Persky, who was first appointed as a judge in Santa Clara County in 2003, ran unopposed and was re-elected to a new six-year term in November.
Panteha Saban, a longtime Santa Clara County public defender who opposes the recall, told the Weekly that she hopes the delay will provide time for the campaign to "speak to respected prosecutors and defense attorneys who work in the trenches of the courtroom to really ask them whether this recall is actually in the best interests of the residents of this county.
"I don't think it is," she said.
Saban said she hopes Santa Clara County voters see the recall as she does: "an attack on our independent judiciary and the discretion of judges to make individualized decisions about people's lives that they really believe is just."
Who might oppose Persky as a candidate in June remains to be seen, although Cindy Hendrickson, an assistant district attorney on District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s executive team, told the San Jose Mercury News that she is "strongly considering a run." Hendrickson declined to comment further to the Weekly.
Once a recall election is called, a nomination period kicks in for candidates to file for election to the office, according to the Registrar’s Guide to Recall. The guide notes a possible exception: Under the California constitution, there is some "legal uncertainty" as to whether the successor to a recalled judge would be elected by voters or appointed by the governor.
If a successor election is included, the Registrar of Voters estimates that it could cost about $533,000.
Anita Torres, a spokesperson for the Registrar, said her office could not confirm with certainty, but believes this is the first recall of a judge in Santa Clara County’s history.
In research her campaign has conducted, Dauber said they found only four instances in California history when judges were successfully recalled: one in 1913 in San Francisco and three in 1932 in Los Angeles.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture ongoing coverage of the Brock Turner case and related issues. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.