Local and national elected officials, Stanford University students, sexual-assault survivors, parents and others threw their support behind the official campaign to recall Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky on Friday morning, speaking at a rally held across the jail from where Brock Turner had been released just hours before.
The Recall Persky campaign, led by Stanford law professor and Palo Alto resident Michele Dauber, organized a lineup of 14 speakers who, one by one, said that Persky has proved himself unfit to remain on the bench. Standing in front of a large group of solemn protesters holding signs with messages like "don't legalize rape" and "hold Persky accountable," they spoke about the broader implications they believe Persky's record holds for the legal system and for victims of sexual violence.
"Women have a fundamental right to expect fairness and justice from the courts of law," Dauber told the crowd in her opening remarks, citing several recently publicized cases overseen by Persky that she says prove a longstanding pattern of his bias toward privileged and white defendants.
"Judicial independence is important, but it depends on a lack of bias. There is no independence where there is bias. Judge Persky's bias is a threat to the rule of law," she continued, "and we will continue until he is no longer a judge."
Several elected officials, including Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, called for Persky's resignation on Friday.
"I call on not only Judge Persky to resign but for his colleagues on the bench to stand up for integrity that they know is right and not hide behind a claim of judicial independence when they know that judicial independence is undermined by the judicial bias that Judge Persky has presented," Burt told the crowd.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Dublin Democrat whose district includes San Ramon, said there was no justice in Turner's sentence and it was time for Persky's "early release."
Swalwell, a seven-year prosecutor in Oakland, described the promise he made to victims, as they had to repeatedly tell their story along with the anxiety they faced while in trial and awaiting a verdict.
"Recalling a judge is not easy, it's an extreme measure, but this judge deserves a recall and the community needs one if we're going to be more protected," Swalwell said.
Two survivors of sexual violence also spoke on Friday: Kamilah Willingham, a Harvard Law School graduate whose story was featured in The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses; and Sofie Karasek, an activist and one of several University of California, Berkeley students who filed a Title IX complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The two women detailed their assaults and the unsatisfying criminal and administrative processes they endured afterwards — processes that Willingham said for many victims can feel like a "second rape."
And Willingham and Karasek, as outspoken activists who reported their assaults, are not the norm, they noted. Most victims are unwilling to report their assaults to their universities or local law enforcement. Persky's six-month jail sentence for Turner, who was found guilty of three sexual-assault felony charges, has only made it less likely that victims will report these crimes, the women said.
“If judges valued survivors more, maybe the Brock Turners of the world would as well," Willingham said.
Stephanie Pham, a rising Stanford junior and co-founder of the university's Association of Students for Sexual Assault Prevention, further criticized Persky: "Instead of upholding fairness, accountability and equal justice, Judge Persky decided to excuse Brock Turner of sexual violence, inevitably undermining trust in the legal system at large, diminishing reporting of assaults and making the Stanford community a more dangerous place for all."
The other speakers included Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Rep. Jerry McNerney, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, State Senator Jim Beall, Assemblymember Nora Campos, Congressional candidate Ro Khanna, former Milpitas mayor Bob Linvegood and California NOW President Jerilyn Stapleton.
De Leon spoke to the men in the crowd, telling them that sexual assault "is a man's issue as well."
"That's why it's important that fathers, boyfriends, members of Congress and Senate and legislature, mayors and city councils and brothers and cousins and uncles and grandfathers; straight, LGBTQ, Latino, African-American, white, racially mixed, Asian-American -- all men should rise together in solidarity" with women, De Leon said.
A mother in the crowd, Jessica Williams, agreed. She brought with her a handmade sign that read "don't get raped," with the "get" and "d" in "raped" crossed out to read "don't rape."
"The message that women get is, 'dress appropriately so you don't get raped; don't drink too much so you don't get raped,'" the 35-year-old mother of three daughters said in an interview with the Weekly. "I think the message should be instead to men, 'Don't rape.' I think we need to switch the focus."
Others in attendance on Friday included Ben Taylor, a Stanford student who felt compelled to come because he has three sisters, and Stella Xu, a local high school student who skipped school just to attend the rally.
"That's how important it was to me," said 17-year-old Xu, holding a sign that read "justice for survivors."
She said she came to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and with the recall effort.
"People say we can't go back and retry Turner and that's true, but we can still prevent future instances like this and show other judges that giving lenient rulings isn't OK by recalling the judge," Xu said.
The recall campaign has raised more than $250,000 so far but has a long way to go to gather the number of signatures required to mount a special election in November 2017.
Meanwhile, Persky has started gathering support for an anti-recall campaign, launched earlier this week. He has also voluntarily withdrawn from hearing criminal cases and will be reassigned to civil matters at the San Jose courthouse starting this Tuesday.
In a statement posted on the "Retain Judge Persky" campaign website, Persky wrote: "I believe strongly in judicial independence. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues. When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence."
The website includes links to statements from supporters and those who have spoken out publicly in defense of judicial independence, including a group of retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judges[, the Santa Clara County Bar Association, the California Judges Association and retired Stanford law professor Barbara Babcock.
One of the retired judges, LaDoris Cordell, who has publicly said she disagrees with the Turner sentence, wrote in an email to the Weekly Tuesday that she nonetheless opposes the recall. She called it an "abuse of the recall process" and a threat to judicial independence.
"If it succeeds, then judges will be looking over their shoulders before making any sentencing decisions, for fear of being targeted by someone who doesn't like their rulings," Cordell said. "I believe that the recall process should be utilized to remove judges who have a demonstrated record of abusing and/or misusing their authority or who have a history of making unlawful or biased decisions. Judge Persky does not have such a record."
The Palo Alto Weekly has created Storify pages to capture ongoing coverage of the Brock Turner case as well as sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view them, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.
Editor's note: Information from the Bay City News Service was used in this report.