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California Voters Recall Judge Who Gave Brock Turner A 6-Month Sentence


Let's turn to another result from yesterday's primaries. In California, for the first time in 87 years, voters have recalled a judge from the bench. The judge is Aaron Persky. He's the Superior Court judge who sentenced Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of three felonies in connection with a 2015 sexual assault behind a campus dumpster after a frat party.

Judge Persky handed down a sentence of six months, a sentence that the woman identified in court as Emily Doe called an insult, a sentence that sparked a national debate and a campaign to oust Judge Persky. The driving force behind that campaign was a Stanford law professor, and she joins me now. Michele Dauber, welcome to the program.

MICHELE DAUBER: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So you won. Judge Aaron Persky recalled from the bench. How's it feel today?

DAUBER: We obviously are very pleased with the result. We think the people of Santa Clara County spoke loud and clear against impunity for high-status perpetrators of violence against women. So obviously we're very pleased with that result.

KELLY: So what was - was there a specific moment when you were following this case and you looked at this and said, this is a fight I want to fight?

DAUBER: Yes. Shortly after the sentencing, you know, of course, there was international outrage. Her victim impact statement was published and went viral. And I started to hear from women lawyers around the county saying, you know, you should look at this case, or you should look at that case. Judge Persky has a history of these kinds of rulings.

KELLY: As you well know, supporters of Judge Persky see this from a very different vantage point. They argue that ousting a judge from the bench will erode judicial independence, that it may result in judges deciding to impose longer sentences for fear of meeting the same fate that Judge Persky has just met and being ousted. What's your response to that?

DAUBER: Well, those are two different questions. One is about judicial independence. And let me just say that in California, all judges at Judge Persky's level are elected, and they stand for re-election every six years. There is no such thing as an elected official that is independent of the electorate.

KELLY: What about the second issue that I raise, that this may result in harsher sentencing, which adds to problems with mass incarceration, et cetera?

DAUBER: Well, that is entirely untrue.

KELLY: It's - I mean, it's not me raising that. As you know, this is - a number of very highly respected law professors have weighed in making this point.

DAUBER: Yes. I'm trying to answer your question.

KELLY: Please.

DAUBER: I believe that judges have greater integrity than Judge Persky and his campaign apparently do. I do not believe that judges are going to start sentencing defendants more harshly because they are worried about losing an election. I simply think that that has a very dim view of judicial integrity, you know, sort of embedded within it, and I don't share that view.

KELLY: Among the people who have opposed this, though, are 20 of your colleagues, 20 professors from Stanford Law who signed on to a statement that opposed this recall. Did that give you pause at any point?

DAUBER: No. It's not at all surprising that the legal profession would link arms with one of its own. They have not understood the very significant concerns of women about the treatment of women with respect to sexual violence and the way that sexual violence impacts women's equality.

KELLY: May I ask what the impact of all this has been on you personally? I'm told that when you were sitting down for this interview, as I was sitting down to the mike, that you had hate mail rolling in on your screen.

DAUBER: (Laughter) Actually it was paper hate mail. But...


DAUBER: What has the impact been on me? You know, it would be naive to think that you could launch a movement that would take on so many entrenched interests like the legal profession and really so directly challenge the status quo that you would not engender backlash. I mean, that would be extremely naive. And at this point, I welcome that backlash because I think it means that we are being effective for women.

KELLY: That's Michele Dauber, Stanford law professor and chair of the Recall Judge Aaron Persky Campaign. Michele Dauber, thank you.

DAUBER: Thank you for your interest in our campaign.

KELLY: And we asked Aaron Persky for a comment and an interview. We have not yet received a response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.