An assigned judge on Friday temporarily blocked proponents of the campaign to recall Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky from gathering signatures to put the issue before voters.
Judge Marjorie Laird Carter, retired from the Orange County bench, granted Persky’s request for a temporary restraining order and set an Aug. 23 hearing to hear Persky’s arguments that the recall petition is defective. Santa Clara County Superior Court Presiding Judge Patricia Lucas appointed Carter after the first judge assigned the case recused himself.
Persky attorney Christine Peek, a partner with McManis Faulkner in San Jose, said the judge is pleased with the decision to block a recall petition that “was not issued in accordance with the California Constitution, and that threatens to mislead the public.”
“It is important that Judge Persky receives a fair hearing on the issues in this case,” Peek said. “We firmly believe that Judge Persky—and all sitting judges—must be able to decide cases free from the fear that an unpopular ruling might cost them their career.”
Michele Dauber, the Stanford University professor who is spearheading the campaign to recall Persky, said she was disappointed with the order.
“We think this is frivolous,” she said. “We don’t think Judge Persky has any legal basis for challenging the recall process.”
The Santa Clara County elections office had cleared the recall campaign to begin gathering signatures on Aug. 9. But Persky’s attorneys argued that, because the judge is a constitutional officer, the registrar of voters should have referred the recall petition to the secretary of state for handling. They also said the petition is wrong to say, “We demand an election of a successor to that office” because the governor would fill the vacancy if Persky is ousted.
Sam Mahood, press secretary for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, said the elections chief had not seen the Persky case filings and had no comment.
Persky’s attorneys had previously taken their complaints to the registrar; a lawyer with the Santa Clara County counsel’s office told Persky attorney Mark Rosen in a July 23 email that the office did not agree with their reasoning.
Recall supporters have pursued Persky’s removal since June 2016, when he gained international scrutiny for sentencing Stanford University student Brock Turner to just six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Since then, critics have accused the judge, appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, of handing down lenient sentences against men accused of assaulting women.
The recall campaign has 160 days to collect 90,000 signatures to put the issue on the June 2018 ballot. The clock continues to tick on the collection deadline even while the restraining order is in place, Dauber said.
“This is an effort by the judge to stall and delay,” she said. “It won’t work because we’re going forward no matter what.”