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1 year ago

The recall of Brock Turner's judge, Aaron Persky, is a concerning blow to judicial independence

in 2015, Stanford undergraduate Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. It is a disgusting crime and one worthy of our universal condemnation and disdain.

The maximum sentence for Turner’s crimes was 14 years in prison. Turner's probation officer recommended a much more lenient sentence including less than a year in county jail. The prosecutor in the case asked that Turner be sentenced to six years in prison.

But Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, a former prosecutor who has served as a California judge for 15 years, sentenced Turner to six months in jail and three years on probation. Turner also had to register as a sex offender for life. This means Turner will not be allowed to live within 1,000 feet of playgrounds or schools and those living close to him will be notified of his status.

Enraged by this decision and moved by the anonymous victim’s powerful statement, a push to recall Judge Persky from the bench quickly gained steam. It now appears that effort was successful.

But barring illegal or unethical behavior, it is almost always be a mistake to recall a sitting judge. It is problematic enough that we elect some judges; the threat of a possible recall introduces yet another worrisome layer into the judicial process. Judicial elections infuse the judicial process with negative political and therefore majoritarian pressure. The ability to recall a judge compounds that pressure.

California superior court judges can be appointed by the governor or elected by the people. Regardless of how they obtained their position, they serve six-year terms and only appear on the ballot if they are challenged in the next election. If they are not challenged, their names do not appear on the ballot and they retain their jobs automatically.

From the bench, superior court judges oversee everything from landlord tenant disputes to murder trials. They must thoughtfully exercise their discretion when and where they can. Sometimes it is a judge’s role to make a decision that protects an unpopular person or group. It should not be the role of a judge to consider how her decisions will play in the next election cycle and whether her decisions are politically popular.

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