The successful recall of California judge Aaron Persky over a lenient sex assault sentence was unusual, but backers of judicial independence worry that it will provide other critics a blueprint for ousting jurists whose decisions they dislike.
The successful recall of Aaron Persky, the first such episode in California since 1932, capped an emotional and intense two-year campaign led by opponents appalled at the judge’s lenient sentencing of sexual assault convict Brock Turner. The recall campaign has been viewed by many in the legal establishment with trepidation about the signal it sends regarding judicial independence. Experts say the circumstances of the Persky case won’t be replicated easily. At the same time, some say the outcome gives judicial critics a new measure of confidence about the feasibility of ousting a judge through a recall or other election process and provides would-be recall campaign leaders a blueprint to follow, Law.com reports.
“It’s hard to meet all the requirements [of a recall]. It’s hard to get all the petitions signed, and then keep the anger level up,” said Indiana University law Prof. Charles Geyh, author of a forthcoming book on judicial elections. “This may embolden angry locals to get judges recalled in the near term.” Only nine states allow judicial recalls, and four of them require certain elements for the process to be triggered, said William Rafferty of the the National Center for State Courts. California is one of a handful of states, with Arizona, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wisconsin, that allow the recall of trial judges for any reason. Other states hold retention elections asking voters whether an appointed judge should be kept in office. In 2010, voters ousted three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of a unanimous ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. California Chief Justice Rose Bird was removed in 1986 in a retention election over her opposition to the death penalty. From the Persky campaign, future opponents of a judge can see that social media can play a huge role in sustaining the anger.