SAN FRANCISCO — Voters on Thursday were a big step closer to getting an opportunity to decide whether to oust a California judge who was severely criticized for his handling of a sexual assault case involving a Stanford University swimmer.
The campaign to remove Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky submitted nearly 100,000 signatures to the county registrar of voters to get the recall on the June 2018 ballot, said Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, a campaign leader.
The registrar of voters must verify the signatures, but Dauber said the campaign needs just under 59,000 signatures and has plenty to qualify.
"We're here doing this because of the thousands of supporters and volunteers who have donated their time and passion and commitment to the belief that we can make a change to how violence against women is handled in the justice system," Dauber said.
Persky drew criticism after he sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner in 2016 to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman who had passed out behind a trash bin. The judge has said it's his job to consider lighter sentences for first offenders and that he cannot allow public opinion to factor in his decisions.
His attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, said in a statement that the recall campaign did not comply with the California Constitution, and she looked forward to defending "the independence and discretion of superior court judges in the interest of protecting the rights of all citizens."
Persky had filed a lawsuit arguing that superior court judges are state officers and that any effort to recall them should be filed with state elections officials. A judge ruled against him last year and said the recall campaign could resume.
California's lower court judges serve six-year terms and are elected by county voters. Vacancies are filled by the governor, and recalls of those judges are extremely rare.
Three Los Angeles judges accused of ethics violations were recalled in 1932, according to a history of judicial discipline in the state in Loyola Law School's Law Review.
There have also been 27 attempts to recall California Supreme Court justices, but none qualified for the ballot, according to the secretary of state's office.
Dauber said the county has 30 days to verify the signatures.