Today, Judge Aaron Persky — the judge responsible for convicted rapist Brock Turner’s disputed six-month sentence — is up for reelection in California. Persky, however, is running unopposed, meaning his name won’t appear on any state ballots today or in November. It’s almost certain he’ll keep his seat as a Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County, despite the public outcry he’s faced by sticking Turner with lenient punishment.
But Stanford law professor Michele Dauber is making sure he doesn’t get comfortable.
Shortly after Perksy’s June 2 sentencing decision, Dauber joined forces with Progressive Women Silicon Valley, an organization committed to the advancement of women’s causes, to begin framing a serious campaign to recall Persky for his “unjust” treatment of Turner, a former Stanford student and admired athlete. And they weren’t the only ones. A few Change.org petitions made quick rounds on Monday across social media, demanding Persky’s removal, but Dauber said that those petitions won’t do much in actually unseating the judge.
Dauber and PWSV’s campaign, however, is the only one with the legal teeth needed to recall Persky through an official vote.
The group’s goal is to get a recall vote on a November 2017 state ballot after they spend the next year working diligently to educate voters on Persky’s potentially flawed judgement. To cover the costs of their work, they’re asking for $100,000 donations. Since creating an official Recall Persky campaign website yesterday, the group has already received around $6,000 in financial contributions.
In California, those leading a recall campaign only have 160 days to gather signatures after getting approval from the Secretary of State to move forward. And, to recall Persky, Dauber said they will have to gather 70,000 signatures in that time from be considered by an election official.
Dauber has little doubt in its ultimate success.
There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is…intoxicated
“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble recalling Judge Persky. I am confident we’re going to succeed,” she said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “If [the sentencing trial] happened a year ago, I’m sure he wouldn’t be running unopposed. It’s just a question of timing.”
Dauber is not new to campus rape cases — she played a major role in reforming Stanford’s sexual assault policies and teaches a course on the issue. But she’s especially irked by Persky’s decision because of nature of his assault and the serious impact it could have on all future campus rape cases.
“The fact that this sexual assault occurred in public and that the victim was observed being penetrated and assaulted while her genitals were exposed to view is more serious and more traumatizing than many other cases,” wrote Dauber in an official letter submitted to Persky.
Persky, who, like Turner, is a former Stanford athlete, said his decision to send Turner to county jail for a half-year stint was based on Turner’s young age and lack of prior criminal offenses, according to the Guardian’s coverage of the hearing. He also said that since Turner was intoxicated at the time of the crime, he should be given a less severe punishment.
“There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated,” Persky said.
This judgement could result in disastrous consequences, according to Dauber.
“Alcohol is involved in nearly every rape on campus,” she said. If this argument held up in court, this could mean any drunk student guilty of violent sexual assault could be given a kinder sentence.
Persky also leaned heavily on the letters submitted in support of Turner, which explained how the 20-year-old was “caring” and “talented” — not the kind of person that would be a rapist. “[Theses letters] sort of corroborates the evidence of his character up until the night of this incident, which has been positive,” Persky said.
This is the piece that frightens Dauber the most.
“All of these kids have a bright future and are high-achieving, or they wouldn’t be at Stanford — or Harvard, or Yale,” she said. “This is basically saying that anyone is allowed a get-out-of-jail-free card if they had a high SAT score or good grades in high school.”
That’s why Dauber and other sexual assault prevention advocates are so committed to removing Persky from the bench. Dauber said that her recall campaign might have been far less successful without the publicity around the letter shared by Turner’s victim — which has now been read by more than eight million people across the globe.
“Everyone was really moved by the victim’s letter,” said Dauber, whose daughter has been close friends with the victim for a decade. “People are reading this and relating it to their own experiences. To me, this reaction is a gut check that this is a common experience across the globe. And that should scare the daylights out of people.”