Although only 90 percent of ballots had been counted by early this week, decisive margins have already decided nearly every race from the June 5 primary. The recall of Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky exceeded predictions from polls in the lead-up to the election, with a total of 61 percent of voters countywide voting to remove him from the bench.
But a closer examination of precinct results shows a deeply divided local area at the heart of Persky’s courtroom presence. Much of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto voted “no” – in some areas, by a significant majority. Even precincts on and adjacent to Stanford University’s campus voted “no.” But across much of the rest of the county, remoteness from Persky’s Palo Alto courthouse – and from many of the local campaigners – seemed to correlate with a “yes” vote.
A future led by women
With Persky recalled, his place will be taken by the successor selected by voters on the same ballot. Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson was the clear winner with almost 70 percent of the vote. She had supported the recall effort, but circumspectly.
“My main goal in entering the judicial contest was to give voters a meaningful choice. At first, I saw my main goal was as an advocate for the democratic process,” she said in an interview with the Town Crier after the election.
Offering a reliable successor to Persky, she said, seemed like a real concern when many qualified members of the legal community hesitated to engage with a politically fraught race. Yet in the end, Hendrickson said, two strong candidates faced off.
“I met Angela Storey a couple of times and I think she’s awesome,” Hendrickson said of her competitor in the race, who garnered approximately 30 percent of the vote. “When she put her name in and it was clear it was the two of us, I told her I sleep a little better at night because I know that Santa Clara County will be OK. I couldn’t on my watch allow a situation to unfold where we ended up worse off after the recall.”
Hendrickson said she didn’t fear that one recall election would lead to a cascade of judicial recalls or uncertainty on the bench.
“We saw how difficult the recall was – people that were involved in the recall can elaborate far better than I can, but it’s not a walk in the park. It took a lot of funding, a lot of time and attention, and I think this was a pretty unusual case as well,” she said. “I don’t see this opening the floodgates for recall any more than the one 86 years ago opened the floodgates.”
The last successful recall of a judge in California occurred in 1932. The Persky recall campaign raised more than $1 million and over the course of two years enlisted political and cultural support on a national level.
Hendrickson said her new role on the bench will differ substantially from work as a prosecutor, though she has two decades of experience evaluating cases and “trying to figure out, ‘What is a just result?’”
“I’m going to be looking to my colleagues on the bench for wisdom and guidance and practical advice,” she said.
She received endorsements from the Los Altos and Mountain View police departments, among other local organizations.
Hendrickson will finish out Persky’s term, which continues until 2022.