Voices - Recall Judge Aaron Persky

Criticism of Judge Persky

Leaders speak out about Judge Persky, and the need to take violence against women seriously (Note: Not all speakers endorse the recall. Endorsers are indicated with an asterisk. To endorse the campaign, please click here. All affiliations are for identification purposes only).

Gillibrand.jpg"Throughout my career in public service I have worked to hold both perpetrators and those who enable them accountable -- whether they were in the military, on college campuses, or even in Congress. No one should be subjected to sexual assault or harassment. And when it occurs and victims come forward, the justice system must treat them fairly and with respect and dignity. Judge Persky did not do that and should be held accountable."

— Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)*

10152363494160986.jpg"I am keeping up with your heroic efforts to recall Aaron Persky. Thank you for continuing to rid the judiciary of judges who don't understand the seriousness of rape...Please know that I and many others support you. You have already prevailed in making the public aware of horrific crimes. The voters in June will follow your lead."

— Anita Hill,  University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women's Studies at Brandeis University*

"I was surprised at the sentence, because the jury returned a verdict and the verdict that they returned would have generally sent the person to prison for what I believe would have been a 4 to 6 year term -- so a 6 month sentence was not something that I would have expected the judge to give based on what the jury found to be true at the trial. It was inconsistent with the jury verdict based on other people who have been tried for similar offenses and sentenced for similar offenses in my 30 years or 26-7 years of being around Santa Clara County. And to not only give him probation but not even give him the maximum one year -- I mean you see people get a year for the first residential burglary without any history, you see people get a year for having several DUIs behind them and having a 4th. And so it was inconsistent with the jury verdict.”

— Retired Judge Ron Del Pozzo, speaking to Aider and Abettor podcast10/12/17

Former Judge LaDoris Cordell has been sharply critical of Judge Persky on television and in the press on several occasions. Get the facts:

"Cordell told CBS This Morning that Brock Allen Turner’s six-month jail sentence was the result of white privilege and questioned whether Turner would have received as light a sentence if he wasn’t white and hadn’t been attending a prestigious university.
'When [Judge Persky] said that, alright, these are the mitigating factors, these were basically code for white privilege. What about the person that isn’t enrolled in a prestigious school, that doesn’t have a stellar future looking ahead? Would the sentence be the same on the facts as they were in this case? . . .I believe it’s a product of this unconscious bias. But if you’re a judge, you can’t have it . . . If you have those biases and you’re a judge, that’s very dangerous.'"
— Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, speaking to KPIX Channel 5 CBS Bay Area

“There are so many problems with how this case was handled that I'm not even sure where to start,” said retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, who, like Persky, served as a Santa Clara County superior court judge. She said it was troubling that Persky didn’t ensure Gunderson was properly supervised, and that Hawaii authorities were not notified when the defendant moved there.

“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. That’s not how the courts are supposed to work.” 

— Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, speaking to Buzzfeed News about Judge Persky's decision to allow a college football player convicted of felony domestic violence to move to Hawaii without notifying the state of Hawaii, so that he could play football at the University of Hawaii

"We lack confidence that Judge Persky can fairly participate in this upcoming hearing in which a male nurse sexually assaulted an anesthetized female patient." 

— Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara County District Attorney (taking what he called a "rare and carefully considered step" to disqualify Judge Persky from another sexual assault case involving an unconscious victim)

"We support efforts to remove him from office. He wrongly showed greater mercy for Turner than for the victim of the serious felonies the jury found Turner committed, and in doing so sent a terrible message about the legal consequences of sexual assault committed by a privileged young person attending an elite school, even when caught in the act."

— Editorial from The Palo Alto Weekly*

"Verde supports recalling Persky because his lenient sentence did not fit the seriousness of Turner’s crime. Persky’s recall will show that we will not tolerate sexual assault or lenient rulings that are not based solely on the evidence presented in court, but could have been swayed by personal biases. . . .If Persky remains on the bench, victims of sexual assault may be less likely to come forward because they may feel that such minor punishments for their offender are not worth the trauma of being in the public eye."

— Editorial from the Verde Magazine, Palo Alto High School*

"Judge Aaron Persky ought to be fired for sentencing former Stanford swimming star Brock Turner to six months in jail for raping a semiconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus. A jury of 12 Santa Clara County residents voted unanimously to convict Turner of three felony charges for which the maximum sentence could have been 14 years in state prison. The district attorney asked for six years. . . But instead the judge decided to disregard the seriousness of the verdict and give Turner a laughable sentence in the county jail. The judge’s reasoning demonstrates why he should no longer be on the bench. . . At a time when society is trying to eliminate sexual misconduct on college campuses, this verdict sends the wrong message. It’s time for Persky to go."

— Judge Aaron Persky should be fired, Palo Alto Daily Post

"This judge, this so-called justice system, and this rapist Brock Turner embody the worst of America."

— Shaun King, Writer and Civil Rights Leader, New York Daily News

"I strongly endorse the recall of Judge Aaron Persky. We need unbiased and fair Judges who support survivors of sexual assault and violence. Judge Persky has repeatedly failed that simple standard. I am proud to stand with all the women who experienced bias in Judge Persky's courtroom, and with all survivors of violence and sexual assault."

— Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith*

"I support the recall of Judge Aaron Persky and urge Santa Clara County voters to remove him from office. The horrific sexual assault committed by Brock Turner was reprehensible. The inappropriately lenient sentence imposed by Judge Persky victimized the young woman all over again. Additionally, Judge Persky has demonstrated an extremely troubling pattern of leniency towards privileged criminal perpetrators, which has now been exposed by his sentence of Brock Turner.

While we cannot undo Judge Persky's sentence, we can prevent it from happening again. First, by the recent change in state law to require mandatory sentences for sexual assault crimes such as Brock Turner committed. I co-authored the legislation making that change last year, which was signed by the Governor.

Second, California's Constitution gives the people the right and privilege to elect candidates for office, including judges. It also grants the people the right to remove elected individuals from office, including judges.

Judge Persky's tone-deaf lenient sentence in the Brock Turner case and his pattern of granting leniency to the privileged are unacceptable. I urge Santa Clara County voters to exercise their rights and remove Judge Persky from office."

— Jerry Hill, CA State Senate - District 13*

"Judge Persky's trivial sentence for felony sexual assault is an affront to criminal justice and the victims of sexual violence. He failed to impartially execute laws to protect all members of our community. Instead, he has emboldened sexual offenders and made us all less safe."

— Peter Leroe-Munoz, Gilroy City Council, Former prosecutor *

"For far too long our justice system has chosen to turn a blind eye to the criminal acts of the elite while prosecuting to the full extent of the law those from less prestigious social circles. This case was about the rape of an unconscious young girl, and it has been treated as petty theft. There is racism, misogyny, and white supremacy engrained in our government and Judge Persky represents that. I have no doubt in my mind, if a young person of color was sitting where Brock Turner was, they would be serving time behind bars. Regardless of this boy's money, his athletic ability, and his enrollment in Stanford, he is a predator that should not be on our streets until we are sure he has been rehabilitated. It was not justice that motivated Judge Persky's ruling, it was white privilege."
— Peter Ortiz, Mount Pleasant Elementary School District Board Member*


"I am proud to add my voice to women from across the country in supporting the Recall Persky movement. We need leaders, including judges, who value the safety and security of women and do not minimize crimes against them, especially sexual assault and rape. If elected, I will be the first woman ever elected Lt. Governor in California, and it’s time to break up the culture that results in minimizing injustice against women in all its forms.”

— Eleni Kounalakis, former U.S. Amb. to Hungary, Candidate for CA Lt. Gov.*

"The judge’s remarks reflected old discredited ideas -- concern only for the privileged male defendant and his future prospects, not the remotest concern for victim, her considerable pain, which she had bravely described in her court statement... Judge Persky can be fairly criticized for what he did. Perhaps a different judge, with a different set of experiences, would have better understood how much Brock Turner’s sentencing reflected years of benighted attitudes to women."

— U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner (Dist. Mass., Retired), July 7, 2016, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

"It seems to me that you really did not accept the jury's findings. We were unanimous in our finding of the defendant's guilt and our verdicts were marginalized based on your own personal opinion. . .. . Justice has not been served in this case. The jury's verdict of guilt on all three felony counts of sexual assault was completely disregarded in an effort to spare the perpetrator a 'hardship'. What message does this send to Emily Doe, and indeed all victims of sexual assault and rape, especially those on college campuses? Your concern was for the impact on the assailant. I vehemently disagree, our concern should be for the victim."

Shame on you.

A Concerned Juror (from a letter from a juror in the Brock Turner case to Judge Persky)

Missoula.jpg"Judge Persky was troubled less by the horrific trauma Brock Turner inflicted on the woman he assaulted than by the impact prison might have on Turner. The soft sentence Persky issued to Turner served as yet another reminder to sexual predators across the land that women are fair game and can be preyed upon with impunity. Even worse, perhaps, it reinforced the perception by millions of well-meaning, law-abiding Americans that sexual assault is no big deal. Removing Judge Persky from the bench will send a powerful message to help debunk this harmful misconception. I enthusiastically support the campaign to recall him."

— Jon Krakauer, Author of "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town"*

— Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th District)*


"And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied. And that is why we will continue to speak out."

Excerpt from An Open Letter to a Courageous Young Woman, written by: Vice President Joe Biden

 "Six months for someone who viciously attacked a woman, especially after she was so brave to come forward, is outrageous."

— Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

“Justice is supposed to be blind, but in this case I think it was peeking. I can’t imagine a more dangerous predator than someone who would take advantage of someone in that situation. The judge made a mistake."

— Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

"[Sen. Gillibrand] doesn’t think justice was served in this case and she thinks that such a short sentence sends the wrong message."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)*

"Judge Persky’s decision is baffling and repugnant, especially given the rapist’s refusal to accept his guilt, and to instead blame ‘drinking culture,’ which is an obvious attempt at blaming the victim. Six months in the county lockup is a sentence so lenient it sends a clear message that rape will not be treated seriously."

"The judicial process put this victim on trial and the judge has reduced his sentence to no more than an inconvenience." 
 Assemblymember Christina Garcia - 58th District (CA)

"If we truly want to create a legal system that brings justice to all — a system that recognizes that physically assaulting an unconscious human being is not some form of sexual shoplifting, a petty misdemeanor where a 90-day sentence is adequate — then we must not quietly excuse Judge Persky.

Giving citizens of Santa Clara County an opportunity to hold Judge Persky accountable for his sentencing decision is a necessary first step toward larger systemic reform. That’s why I’m supporting this recall effort, and why I hope others will join me in this effort."

— Reid Hoffman, Partner, Greylock, co-founder, LinkedIn*

— Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator*

“I think he should resign... it's a decision for the voters of Santa Clara County to make.”

— Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA 14th District)

“Mr. Speaker, I was a prosecutor and a criminal court judge in Texas for over 30 years. I met a lot of rape victims and learned how these attacks sometimes devastate their lives. This judge got it wrong,” Poe said. “There’s an archaic philosophy in some courts that sin ain’t sin as long as good folk do it. In this case, the court and the defendant’s father wanted a pass for the rapist because he was a big-shot swimmer. The judge should be removed. The rapist should do more time for the dastardly deed that he did that night. This arrogant defendant has appealed the sentence. I hope the appeals court does grant the appeal and make it right and overturn the pathetic sentence and give him the punishment he deserves.”

 — Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)*

"Today, Brock Turner is out of prison. He will return to his life, but the life of his victim may never be the same. The criminal has given her a life sentence of mental pain, anguish, and turmoil. Rape is never the fault of the victim. Too often the focus is on defending, protecting, and excusing sex offenders like Brock Turner. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in this case. As a former Judge, I know that the system does not work if those who have the privilege of sitting on the bench fail to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Judge Persky should be recalled to ensure that justice is not denied for one more victim. There should be no more Brock Turners who escape what they deserve. The punishment for a convicted rapist should be longer than a summer break from college."

— Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)*

"The sentencing of six months is a very sad and pathetic display of justice. In fact, the sentence is far from serving justice. Judge Persky said a longer prison sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner. Persky could not be more wrong, and instead, he has assured other rapists and offenders that they too can get away with assault, especially if they have privileged backgrounds."

— Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA 17th District)

— Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California

“When someone is facing a 14-year (maximum sentence), which is what I believe was the exposure in this case, there has got to be extraordinarily mitigating facts to reduce it down to what I believe ended up being six months,” Harris told reporters. “And I don’t know if the facts actually merit that kind of mitigation.”

Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California

 "We need more judges and elected leaders who are committed to both preventing and deterring rape and sexual assault, whether by enacting more tough laws in legislatures or through fierce penalties in the judicial system through the courts. For these reasons and many more, I'm pleased to add my name to the growing coalition of those who support the recall and ouster of failed Judge Persky. He's unworthy of the robe her wears and the bench he sits on."

— Kevin de León, CA President pro Tempore of State Senate - District 24*

 "This has to be reviewed in terms of performance of the judge" Beall said. "I think it calls into question his decision-making process."

Jim Beall, CA State Senate - District 15*

— Mike Gatto, former CA Assembly - District 43

 "I support the campaign to recall Judge Persky because our victims deserve better. This is the best way for voters to exercise their voting power, hold our judges accountable, and ensure that no future perpetrator gets off the hook for such a heinous crime.”

— Fiona Ma, CA Board of Equalization Chairwoman - District 2*

 "I support the effort to recall Judge Persky from office and to replace him with judge who will treat all sexual assault seriously, no matter who commits this crime or where it takes place."

— Ken Dauber, Palo Alto Unified School District Board Member*

"June 9, 2016

Anthony P. Capozzi, Esq. Chairperson, California Commission on Judicial Performance

Dear Mr. Capozzi,

We, the undersigned Members of the Legislature, urge you to investigate and take action against Judge Aaron Persky because of his misconduct in the recent Santa Clara Superior Court case of People of the State of California v. Brock Turner that shows bias and undermines public faith in the judicial system.

Judge Persky appears to have engaged in prejudicial misconduct. To show prejudicial misconduct, it must be shown that the judge - whether acting in good faith or not - engages in conduct that adversely would affect the esteem in which the judiciary is held by members of the public who become aware of the circumstances of the conduct. (Adams v. Commission of Judicial Performance (1995) 10Cal.4th 886.) Although Turner could have been sentenced to many years in state prison, and was required by law to be sentenced to a prison term (except under extraordinary circumstances), the court granted him probation and a mere six month jail term. This preferential treatment is perceived by the public to be based upon the fact that Turner is an upper middle class, white student-athlete who was privileged enough to earn both admission and an athletic scholarship to a highly selective university, just as Judge Persky did himself.

Judge Persky's ruling could also be considered "improper misconduct" so that an objective observer aware of the circumstances would deem it to adversely affect the reputation of the judiciary. Judge Persky's bias, whether intentional or inadvertent, affects the esteem of the judiciary in the eyes of the public, which undermines public confidence in the integrity and the independence of the judicial system. Judicial rulings like Judge Persky's damage our justice system in at least two ways: 1) They discourage the reporting of these devastating crimes by reinforcing the fear that justice will not be served; and 2)They demonstrate that there are two systems of justice: one for people of privilege such as elite athletes, and one for everyone else. Because a judge should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, we urge the Commission to take action against Judge Persky."

— Susan Talamantes Eggman, Assemblymember 13th District & Chair, CA LGBT Caucus; Cristina Garcia, Assemblymember 58th District & Vice Chair, CA Legislative Women's Caucus; Senator Jim Baell, SenateDistict 15; Senator BobWieckowskz, Senate District 10; Assemblymember Autumn R. Burke, Assembly District 62; Assemblymember Mike Gatto, Assembly District 43; Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown, Assembly District 47; Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber, Assembly District 79; Assemblymember Nora Campos, Assembly District 27; Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, Assembly District 64; Assemblymember Patty Lopez; Assembly District 39; Assemblymember Susan A. Bonilla, Assembly District 14; Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, Assembly District 53 

Martina Navratilova, tennis champion

"But Judge Aaron Persky must take the lion's share of the blame. To sentence Turner to only six months in jail and then probation, Persky had to cite "extraordinary circumstances" that make this case much less worthy of condemnation than others. He clearly sympathized not with the victim but with the defendant, a Stanford athlete. That's not acceptable."

— Mark Lemley, William H. Neukom Professor at Stanford Law School*

"The road to reform that protects the rights of all of those caught up in the criminal justice system – men and women, white and nonwhite, poor and privileged – has to be a willingness to root out bias wherever it exists. Turning aside from a commitment to fair enforcement of the law does not make sense. What is needed is a careful attention to where it goes astray and transparency in the process. In this, Persky failed and should be recalled. We need to learn from this, and be willing to play our part through enforcing accountability through democratic processes. We should recall Judge Persky and should replace him with a judge who is not biased."

— David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University*

"As a Judge who is entrusted to administer justice and uphold the rule of law, you have irrevocably violated the public trust by handing down a sentence that is not commensurate with the seriousness of the violent, life-altering, and heinous crimes committed in this case. As a result of the clear bias you hold against sexual assault victims, your outright gender discrimination, and your failure to fairly apply the law, we the undersigned support your removal from office."

Excerpt from NOW's Open Letter to Judge Aaron Persky, signed by: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women; Sonia Ossorio, President, NOW New York; Jerilyn Stapleton, President, California NOW*

 "It sends the wrong message: that if you are from a privileged background, if you are a star athlete, and if you commit your crime on a college campus, then the law does not apply to you."

—  Ro Khanna, Member of Congress (CA-17)*


"Judge Persky’s bad behavior goes beyond one grossly wrongheaded sentence, and embodies an unacceptable pattern of 'questionable judgment in cases involving violence toward women.'"

— Andrew McLaughlin, Partner/Co-founder: Higher Ground Labs


"Brock Turner's six-month jail term for sexual assault of an intoxicated, unconscious woman on the Stanford campus last year is a setback for the movement to take campus rape seriously."

— Excerpt from Mercury News Editorial

"The Times’ editorial board hasn’t questioned whether the crime was horrific or the sentence was too lenient; it was, and it is. Probation should be granted only if it serves the best interests of justice, and it is extremely hard to conclude that the best interests of justice were served by this ruling. On this point, Dauber’s team and The Times’ editorial board strongly agree."

— Excerpt from The Los Angeles Times

— Lisa Bloom, American Civil Rights Attorney*

 “I would say it’s a case of privilege,” Banks said. “It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. ‘He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison.’ What about the kid who has nothing? He struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a nonparent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”

— Brian Banks, Wrongly Convicted of Rape as a Teen

— Sharon Stone, Actress*

— Lena Dunham* and the Cast of Girls

— Anna Paquin, Actress



“I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like if you killed someone and got caught red-handed and just because you went to a nice school, and you were a good swimmer, you somehow get a lesser sentence. That just doesn’t make any sense.”

— Channing Tatum, Actor


Amy Ziering

"Judge Persky gave Brock Turner an incomprehensibly lenient sentence for a thrice convicted violent felon. Doing so harmed not only the survivor in this case, but all survivors by trivializing the harm they’ve suffered as a result of sexual assault. It also sent a message to predators that victims are fair game and our schools are veritable hunting grounds. What’s more, Persky failed to do the one thing of paramount import that our judges are elected to do: protect citizens from further and future harm by keeping violent felons off our streets. Campus rape is a serious crime, and athletes don’t deserve hall passes when it comes to felonies. Support the recall of Judge Persky. Our judges need to protect citizens, not rapists."

— Amy Ziering, Producer of the Hunting Ground*

— Amber Tamblyn, actor, poet, producer, writer, director*

— Deb Carson, sports journalist

— Gisel Kordestani, founder Crowdpac*

— Ultra Violet

— Victoria Aveyard, author


It is not disputed that Brock Turner took the victim, by then intoxicated, behind a dumpster, stripped her half naked and had his way. He faced up to 14 years imprisonment for rape. The prosecutor recommended six years. The judge, Aaron Persky, imposed a sentence of six months in the county jail to be followed by three years' probation (the actual time served will probably be three months or less).

Judge Persky observed that a stiffer sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner's life. He had previously received a letter from Turner's father saying that his son's arrest had, among other things, ruined his appetite for rib eye steak, and that any incarceration would be "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action."

From the public outcry that followed, there has arisen a movement to recall Judge Persky. Is recall warranted because of one episode of what many regard as extreme leniency?

It is for this one, yes.

An independent judiciary is an indispensable component of constitutional democracy. It would be the rare case in which mere disagreement with a sentence, no matter how earnest or well-founded, would warrant a judge's removal.

There is a difference, though, between judicial independence, on the one hand, and utter lack of accountability to the citizens who look to the court for justice and must live under its rulings. A ruling in even one case can display a mindset so out of touch with basic decency, and so oblivious to the suffering of victims, as to amount to a forfeiture by the judge of the trust without which essential public confidence in courts cannot survive.

It is true that Mr. Turner is likely to face serious consequences from prison time. But to elevate this fact to the fulcrum of judgment -- while, for any practical purpose, ignoring the shattering, lifelong consequences of the violence Turner inflicted on his victim -- reflects an imbalance so lopsided that it amounts to an abuse of office.

A judge must balance mercy with justice. Judge Persky doubtless reflected long and hard about this sentence. That, of course, is exactly the problem. That such an unserious outcome is the product of reflection showcases, rather than undermines, the reason Judge Persky should be required to step down.

— William G. Otis, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, from a NYT op-ed