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Campaign to recall Brock Turner judge ordered to stop collecting petition signatures

Tracey Kaplan, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A judge Friday temporarily stopped advocates of recalling embattled Judge Aaron Persky from gathering signatures on petitions to put his ouster on the June ballot.

The petitions were approved this week by Shannon Bushey, Santa Clara County's registrar of voters, clearing the way for the campaign to begin collecting signatures.

But the judge sought a restraining order, and retired Orange County Judge Marjorie Laird Carter on Friday afternoon barred the campaign from continuing to collect signatures until an Aug. 23 hearing, 12 days away.

In the court documents, Persky argued that because he is a state officer, California's secretary of state, not the county registrar, should have decided whether the campaign's signature-gathering could proceed. At the hearing in June, the judge will be asking Laird Carter to order the county to withdraw its certification of the recall petitions, forcing proponents to start over with the secretary of state.

Friday's ruling was a rare victory for the Santa Clara County Superior Court judge, who last summer gave a relatively lenient sentence to former Stanford University athlete Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted an unconscious, intoxicated woman outside a campus fraternity party. The six-month sentence and the victim's powerful statement ignited a national outcry, prompted new state laws in California and touched off a recall movement that forced Persky to stop hearing criminal cases.

"We're really pleased," said Elizabeth Pipkin, one of the judge's attorneys, after Laird Carter made her ruling. "It's very important that the rule of law be respected."

Stanford law professor and recall campaign chair Michele Dauber said she was disappointed but determined not to give up.

"The recall is going forward no matter how much taxpayer money Judge Persky decides to waste on frivolous lawsuits," she said. "He cannot stop this movement of women who are upset he doesn't take sexual violence against women seriously."

But Persky has also mounted an attack on another legal front, arguing that if he winds up losing his judgeship, the governor should fill the vacancy, not voters. As it stands now, the petitions call for the question of who would replace the judge to appear on the same ballot as the recall. If the courts allow the recall to proceed, the campaign would have until Jan. 16 to gather 58,634 signatures to qualify for June's ballot.

Even if the county registrar and by extension recall advocates win the case, any further delays would shorten the window for collecting about 90,000 signatures to ensure that the measure qualifies.

Also, the litigation may raise doubts among some voters about the legitimacy of the petition drive, hampering the recall campaign's signature-gathering. On the other hand, the court's role in the controversy may be viewed as self-dealing and galvanize supporters.

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