FAQs - Recall Judge Aaron Persky

Frequently Asked Questions

Mission Statement


We are outraged at Judge Persky's actions, and we don't just want talk, we want to take him out of office. That is why the Committee to Recall Judge Persky is the only effort in existence that has put together a comprehensive plan and team that can actually take Persky out of office, so that he can no longer shield sex offenders from justice.

Why the recall?


Aaron Persky gave too lenient a sentence to Brock Turner, a former Stanford Swimmer convicted of sexual assault. Turner was only sentenced to six months for his heinous crime, and Persky cited the impact prison would have on Turner's life in his decision. Persky is unfit to sit on the bench, and as long as he is a judge, predators in Santa Clara County will know they have an ally on the bench.

Did the Commission on Judicial Performance “Clear” Judge Persky?


No. This was a one-sided, closed-door proceeding that resulted in an error-ridden report (the “Persky Report”) by an agency with a long history of protecting judges. The Commission only imposes discipline in approximately 3% of cases, even though one study showed that similar states impose discipline at three to four times that rate. At the same time, the Commission refuses to provide any information about why it disciplines judges at such a low rate. In 2016, the Commission sued to block the State Auditor from completing a performance review ordered by the state legislature. As a result of this lack of transparency and oversight, the respected Center for Public Integrity recently gave California an “F” for judicial accountability in a detailed state study.

Due to the Commission’s record of protecting judges and lack of transparency, the Recall Campaign decided not to make a complaint to the Commission. Instead, we elected to take the issue directly to the people, who are the ultimate protection against judicial bias under the California Constitution.

Read our full response to the Commission Report here.

Has Judge Persky shown bias before?


Judge Persky's sentencing of Brock Turner was consistent with other cases in which he appeared to favor athletes and other relatively privileged individuals accused of sex crimes or violence against women. It is important to note that Judge Persky was only assigned to the criminal court in Palo Alto in January 2015.  With the exception of the De Anza case, all of the below-described cases occurred over an approximately 18-month period that ended when Judge Persky returned to civil court on August 26, 2016, just as the newspaper article about the Gunderson case (see below) was going to press.

In 2015 Judge Persky allowed a college football player, Ikaika Gunderson, who was convicted of felony domestic violence for severely beating and choking his ex-girlfriend and pushing her out of a car, to leave the state to play for the University of Hawaii without notifying the state of Hawaii. Judge Persky did not place Gunderson on probation and he was completely unsupervised. Judge Persky also offered to reduce Mr. Gunderson’s felony to a misdemeanor after a year of football if he completed a domestic violence class and went to some AA meetings. These terms were set by Judge Persky, not the district attorney, according to Deputy District Attorney Brian Welch. Mr. Gunderson’s lawyer stated to the press that Judge Persky did not want Mr. Gunderson to lose his “once in a lifetime opportunity” to try out for the football team. There was no full probation report. The DA repeatedly raised a concern about sending Mr. Gunderson out of state without notifying the probation department. Notification of the receiving state and supervision in such cases is required by the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, which unquestionably applies to deferred sentencing arrangements like this one. During the “deferred sentencing” period, this athlete later moved to Washington State, again without any notice to that state, where he was arrested again for domestic violence against a different victim

Even one of Judge Persky’s supporters has harshly criticized his handling of the Gunderson case. Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell told Buzzfeed News that “There are so many problems with how this case was handled that I’m not even sure where to start . . . The system is set up so that if someone has admitted a violent offense and is now a convicted felon, they should be closely monitored,” Cordell said. “You don’t just cross your fingers and hope everything is going to be fine.”

Similarly, in the 2016 case of Keenan Smith, a star college football player at the College of San Mateo who was convicted of domestic violence and of knocking a Good Samaritan unconscious and threatening another bystander, Judge Persky imposed a sentence that was tailored to Smith’s football game schedule. As in Gunderson, there was no full probation report in this case. Smith failed to comply with the conditions of his probation and sentence (including not showing up for weekend work for months) and Judge Persky repeatedly failed to hold him accountable. It was not until the District Attorney took the unusual step of filing a motion to violate Smith’s probation that another judge, Judge Diane Northway, heard the matter and Smith was held accountable. Assistant District Attorney Brian Welch told the Mercury News that the new judge “agreed that enough was enough” and Smith was resentenced to spend weekends in jail.

Even before Judge Persky came to the criminal bench in Palo Alto at the beginning of 2015, there were troubling indicators of his problematic judgment in cases involving college athletes accused of violence against women. In another case involving collegiate athletes, Persky was the judge in the infamous “De Anza Gang Rape” case in which several members of the De Anza College baseball team allegedly gang-raped an unconscious 17-year-old girl. Persky allowed highly prejudicial and revealing photos of the victim taken nearly a year after the crime to be shown to the jury. He also barred a second victim (Jane Doe #2), who alleged a very similar crime, from testifying so the jury was not able to consider allegations that the alleged assault was part of a pattern. Judge Persky also blocked the jury from knowing that the baseball players had all taken the Fifth in their depositions.

The result of Judge Persky’s biased rulings in this case was that none of the defendantswere found liable and one juror left the courtroom saying that “She came there kind of looking for it,” while another juror said that the unconscious victim hadn’t been totally “comatose”, so “she was just having a good time.” Her lawyers called the impact of the photos “prejudicial” and questioned other rulings by Persky that, according to Barbara Spector, one of the lawyers for the victim, “favored” the defendants. Monica Burneikis, another of the victim’s lawyers, told NBC that “it seems that Judge Persky’s focus is not seeking justice for the victim but rather on protecting the perpetrator.”

Judge Persky has exhibited bias in other domestic violence cases. On the same day that Judge Persky sentenced Brock Turner, he also sentenced Cisco Systems engineer Tony Chiang to minimal ‘weekend’ jail time for felony aggravated battery against his fiancé. As in Gunderson and Smith, Judge Persky was not following a recommendation of the probation department because there was no full probation report in this case.

As these cases show, Judge Persky has a longstanding pattern of bias in favor of privileged defendants. Less privileged defendants evidently do not receive the same level of solicitude from him. For instance, Judge Persky approved a sentence of three years in prison for a low-income Latino defendant charged with similar crimes to Brock Turner. Like Turner, he had no serious criminal history. Unlike Turner, the Latino defendant was extremely remorseful, apologized, admitted it was wrong, and pleaded guilty. In Turner’s case, Judge Persky had famously remarked should not be sentenced to prison because it “would have a severe impact” on him. By contrast, Assistant DA Terry Harman stated to the press that Judge Persky agreed with the DA that Mr. Ramirez should go to state prison.

Former Judge LaDoris Cordell stated on television that the Turner sentence was the result of “white privilege,” and said, “if you have those biases and you’re a judge, that’s very dangerous.”

Compared with other judges in Santa Clara County, Judge Persky’s sentences for at least one sex crime – child pornography -- stand out as very lenient. In 2015, Judge Persky sentenced Robert Chain who was convicted of felony child pornography to only 4 days in jail. Chain, who is white, was convicted of having dozens of highly disturbing images of very young girls ages 18 months to 4 years being penetrated or in sexual situations. Like Gunderson, this was not a plea bargain with the DA but was an offer made by Judge Persky himself. Even more disturbingly, Judge Persky offered to reduce Chain’s felony conviction to a misdemeanor after only one year of probation – against the recommendation of the probation report. Even two public defenders who support Judge Persky characterized this sentence as unusually short, with one calling it “eye-raising” and saying that the 4-day sentence was more appropriate for minor offenses like disturbing the peace or public intoxication, not felony child porn which he called “a step up from that.” As this analysis shows, every other judge in Santa Clara County sentenced defendants to 6 months for this crime and no other judge offered to reduce the conviction for this serious child sex offense to a misdemeanor after only one year of probation.

Who is running this campaign?


The Campaign Chair is Michele Dauber, a Professor at Stanford Law School. Meet our co-chairs and full leadership team here.

How does a recall election work?


Under California Constitution, a recall election is the appropriate and proper course to follow in a case of judicial bias like this. In California, county judges are elected officials and they are accountable to the people they serve. Judge Persky is not up for reelection until 2022. The recall procedure simply allows us to have an election sooner than that.

It is helpful to understand what a recall is and is not. A recall is not a petition to remove an individual from office. A recall is simply a petition to hold an election. We will start collecting signatures in June 2017. We will have 160 days to collect 90,000 signatures. At that point, we will submit our signatures and if we have enough valid signatures, there will be an election on the next countywide consolidated ballot.

At that point, there will be an election, and the people of Santa Clara County will have the chance to vote on whether Judge Persky should continue or whether someone else should have that seat. Just as in any other election, Judge Persky's supporters will have the opportunity to campaign for him and donate to his campaign and vote for him. And we will be on the opposite side. In fact, a recall election favors Judge Persky because we will have to win more than 50% of the vote to prevail, rather than just get the most votes as in an ordinary election.

A recall election is simply a democratic process for handling situations in which the people would like a chance to vote on a candidate prior to the expiration of his or her term.

Things like sentencing bias are handled as political questions in a system like ours in which judges are elected. There literally is no other remedy for this other than at the polls. Given that fact, the choice is between a recall election now or a regular election in 2022. We don’t think waiting makes sense. The victims of sexual and gender-based violence who will have their cases heard over the next 6 years deserve to receive justice.

How many signatures do we need to collect?


We need to collect approximately 90,000 signatures of registered voters in Santa Clara County to ensure that the recall is on the ballot.

Do voters support the recall?


Yes. Independent polling in Santa Clara County shows very strong support for this recall campaign. Polls show that 67% of registered Santa Clara County voters support the recall. Women support the recall by more than 4 to 1. In addition, 63% of voters do not believe that Judge Persky can be fair in any case and that the sentence in the Turner case was indicative of a general lack of judgment by Judge Persky.

How much will it cost?


We estimate that it will cost around one million dollars to successfully recall Judge Persky. Phase 1 of the campaign, collecting and certifying approximately 90,000 signatures of registered voters from Santa Clara County, will cost approximately $500,000, including advertising and outreach during this phase. Phase 2 is winning the recall election after the signatures are gathered and the recall is on the ballot. This phase will cost approximately $500,000, including advertising and direct mail.

How do I give?


Click HERE to donate to our recall effort.

If you prefer to send a check, please make it payable to "Committee to Recall Judge Persky" and send it to:
Committee to Recall Judge Persky
1787 Tribute Road, Suite K
Sacramento, CA 95815

Law requires we ask for your employer and occupation, so please include it with your check. If you don't have an employer or are retired, put N/A, and if you are self-employed put "self-employed" in employer and describe your occupation. Contributions or gifts to Progressive Women Silicon Valley are not tax deductible. Progressive Women Silicon Valley State PAC is a registered California committee subject to the regulations, requirements, and prohibitions of the California Political Reform Act. The committee is permitted to accept unlimited contributions. We may not accept contributions from foreign nationals at this time.

Where does the money go when I donate on this website?


This campaign is registered with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and all donations and expenditures will be reported and disclosed as required by law.

This campaign is an all-volunteer effort. Although we are fortunate to have some very seasoned professionals advising the campaign, everyone is working pro bono. None of the dollars donated to the campaign go to pay any political consultants, pollsters, or communications professionals.

As described above, your donations will go primarily to pay for two things: (1) helping to collect and submit the required number of signatures to get the recall on the ballot; and (2) connecting with voters through mailers, advertising, events, and other outreach opportunities.

Who has endorsed?


When Judge Persky gave an unreasonably light sentence to Brock Turner, prominent leaders all across the country voiced their outrage. These leaders have joined our fight to take this injustice to the voters of Santa Clara County -- view the list here.

See what leaders and activists across the country are saying here.

What about these petitions and other websites?


It is great that over one million people have lent their voice to the movement to recall Persky, but online petitions have no legal standing in recalling a judge. This is the only official recall movement that can actually succeed in getting Persky out of office.

Is there another way to remove Judge Persky?


No. The recall campaign is the only realistic option to remove Judge Persky from office. If we don't take action by recalling Judge Persky, he will remain on the bench until he is up for re-election in 2022.

Many filed complaints against Judge Persky with the Commission on Judicial Performance in the hopes that he would be removed or disciplined. However, the result of those complaints was a one-sided, closed-door proceeding that resulted in an error-ridden report (the “Persky Report”) by an agency with a long history of protecting judges.

You can read our full response to the Commission Report here.

Will the recall hurt judicial independence?


California judges are accountable to voters, and that means considering judges’ previous decisions. Under Article II Section 14 of the California Constitution, judges are elected and they are subject to the recall like all other elected officials. Voters may consider information about the judge's performance of his duties when casting their ballots in a regular election. A recall is simply a special election and the same information may be considered. It is up to the voters to determine whether or not Judge Persky continues in office, and the voters may consider his history on the bench including his decisions in making their determination.

There is relevant information regarding the sentence in this case that may be considered by voters in casting their ballots. Brock Turner was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault, which carried a minimum sentence of two years in prison. Judge Persky intentionally ignored the statutory minimum to hand out a light sentence to an elite athlete from his alma mater. Additional evidence continues to be released that Judge Persky has shown a pattern of bias in his decisions.

Does this recall protect the interests of minority defendants?


Yes. This recall sends a clear message that the people demand equal justice for all, regardless of race and privilege. Judge Persky repeatedly abused his discretionary power to extend leniency to upper class, privileged defendants. A few weeks prior to granting probation to Brock Turner, Judge Persky approved sentencing a Latino defendant who was convicted of a similar crime to three years in prison. Judge LaDoris Cordell called Judge Persky’s sentence of Turner an instance of “white privilege.” This recall is a step toward ending longer sentences based on race.

Some recall opponents have argued that recalling Judge Persky will cause other judges to impose longer sentences on all criminal defendants, the majority of whom are people of color charged with nonviolent or drug offenses. This is incorrect.

First of all, our campaign is very clearly about ending impunity for high status offenders like Mr. Turner. We are confident that judges have sufficient judicial integrity to be able to distinguish between high status, white or privileged college athletes like Brock Turner who were convicted of sex crimes and poor minority drug and non-violent offenders. 

Second, everyone involved in this campaign is committed to criminal justice reform and opposes mass incarceration. Many of this campaign's leaders and elected endorsers are people of color, such as Senate Pro Tem President Kevin De Leon and Congressman Ro Khanna. We reject the notion that we have to choose between justice for women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence, especially women from marginalized communities, and reforming the criminal justice system. Both are important and justice is not zero sum. We can support both: justice for victims of sexual and domestic violence by being, as Senator Kamala Harris has said, smarter on crime, rather than tougher on crime.