The state's top lawyer weighed in Tuesday on a legal battle between Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky and the group working to unseat him, intervening on behalf of the recall campaign.
In an emergency application for intervention filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose Tuesday morning, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urged the court to reject claims recently made by the embattled judge in an effort to block his opposition from gathering the signatures required to place the measure on the June 2018 ballot.
Persky two weeks ago won an injunction that temporarily blocked the recall campaign from collecting signatures. He challenged the recall campaign's petition, which had been approved by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters the day before, on the grounds that the secretary of state, rather than the registrar, should oversee the recall, and that the replacement for a recalled judge should be appointed by the governor rather than elected.
Becerra, who represents the secretary of state, rejected both of those arguments on Tuesday.
Persky's legal challenge "may impair and impede" Secretary of State Alex Padilla's responsibility to enforce election laws as the "chief elections officer" for California, the legal filing argues.
"The Secretary has an unquestionable interest in defending the constitutional and statutory provision at issue in this case. No other party shares the Secretary's unique interests in the ramifications that the claims in this case may have for the State's election laws and recall procedures," the filing states.
Persky's petition "seeks to impose" on the secretary of state "new administrative duties and responsibilities regarding recall of superior court judges that the Secretary has never performed, and that the Elections Code vests with county election officials, not the Secretary," Becerra wrote.
James McManis of McManis Faulkner, the law firm representing Persky, told the Weekly Tuesday that his firm has not yet taken a position on the the attorney general's action.
"The attorney general is just another lawyer," McManis said. "As far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure Judge Persky shares this feeling, everybody is entitled to their day in court. That's what we're exercising and I think if the secretary of state wants to be heard, (he) ought to be heard."
Michele Dauber, the Stanford University law professor chairing the recall campaign, said she was "relieved" that the attorney general weighed in.
She characterized Persky's legal action as a stalling tactic to avoid the recall election. The county has told her that if the recall campaign cannot start gathering signatures before Sept. 1, the measure will have to be placed on the November 2018 rather than June 2018 ballot.
She also questioned the timing of Persky's petition, which came more than a month after the recall campaign filed its notice of intent to circulate a recall petition and Persky filed his own ballot statement with the county.
On Friday, the recall campaign filed an objection against a retired Orange County judge brought on to hear the case, Laird Carter, alleging her approval of Persky's temporary restraining order amounted to "prior restraint of protected First Amendment speech without any finding of a compelling government interest."
All Santa Clara County judges have recused themselves from the case.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a new judge was appointed to oversee the legal challenge. Kay Tsenin, a San Francisco judge, will now hear the case on Monday, Aug. 28, according to McManis.
Dauber launched the effort to unseat Persky following his widely criticized sentencing of former Stanford student Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus in 2015. Turner was released on good behavior after serving half of the six-month sentence in county jail.