I served on the Superior Court of our county for 26 years. My tenure overlapped with Judge Aaron Persky. I remember when the governor appointed him to the bench. We were excited to have this outstanding lawyer join us.
As a deputy district attorney, Judge Persky distinguished himself fighting for victims of crime in hundreds of cases. In addition, he served on the executive committee of the Support Network for Battered Women and on the Santa Clara County Network for a Hate-Free Community.
Once on the bench, we all recognized Judge Persky as an outstanding judge, both hardworking and fair. In all of his judicial decisions, Judge Persky followed the law, as he did in the Brock Turner case. In that case, he adopted the recommendations of the Santa Clara County Probation Office. That office conducted an extensive investigation of Turner’s background and, using sophisticated tests, concluded that Turner should not be sent to prison. Judge Persky followed that recommendation. Many disagree with the sentence he ordered, but no one disputes that it was a lawful decision.
The behavior of California judges is overseen by the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP). Established in 1960, the CJP is the independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct and judicial incapacity and for disciplining judges, pursuant to Article VI, Section 18 of the California Constitution. The CJP’s mandate is to protect the public, enforce rigorous standards of judicial conduct and maintain public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system.
The CJP receives complaints from citizens who believe they have been improperly treated by judges. They have the power and do, on occasion, recommend to the California Supreme Court that a judge be removed from office. They also can publicly reprimand judges for improper behavior. The CJP removes approximately one judge a year through this process.
The CJP reviewed complaints about Judge Persky’s handling of the Turner case. They found that Judge Persky followed the law and concluded that he did not deserve any reprimand.
As a former judge, I know what this recall will mean to judges throughout the state. When faced with a sentencing decision in a criminal case or in any case where there are important societal issues at stake, the judge will be forced to listen to the loud public voices. After all, the public has the power to start a campaign to remove the judge from office.
Is that what we want from our judges? We have the finest judiciary in the world in a country governed by a Constitution. We learned in our civics classes that we have three co-equal branches of government. I believe we want our judges to be independent and to rule based on the law, not on public pressure. Yet that is what may happen – as judges listen to the public rather than follow the law.
Many citizens have experiences in the court system, from jury duty to traffic fines, small-claims court and more serious matters. Some have had bad experiences. Our negative experiences with the court system should not influence our votes about whether to remove Judge Persky from office. He is an excellent judge, an exemplary member of our Superior Court.
We should vote “no” on the recall.
Judge Leonard Edwards (ret.) is a Los Altos Hills resident.