Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky could become the first California judge recalled in nearly 90 years, KPIX-TV reported.
Persky gained national attention after he sentenced Stanford University elite swimmer Brock Turner to just six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a frat party on Jan. 28, 2015.
A group of outraged critics launched an effort and garnered more than 58,000 signatures that put the recall on the June 5 ballot.
The 56-year-old judge stepped in front of news cameras on Tuesday to speak out about the upcoming recall vote, which he called "misguided."
“I really think judges should sit back and take the criticism. But the stakes are too high now,” Persky said. “That’s why I’ve come forward. The recall, if successful, threatens the integrity of our justice system.”
Why were people so angry with Persky's decision?
Persky's comments made during Turner's sentencing angered many who believe he protected the defendant:
I understand that — as I read — that [Jane’s] life has been devastated by these events, by the— not only the incidents that happened, but the — the criminal process has had such a debilitating impact on people’s lives, most notably [Jane] and her sister.
And, also, the — one other factor, of course, is the media attention that has been given to this case, which compounds the difficulties that participants in the criminal process face. So I acknowledge that devastation. And — and to me, the — not only the— the incident, but the criminal proceedings — preliminary hearing, trial, and the media attention given to this case — has — has in a — in a — in a way sort of poisoned the lives of the people that have been affected by the defendant’s actions.
And in my decision to grant probation, the question that I have to ask myself, again, consistent with those Rules of Court, is: Is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison? Is incarceration in state prison the right answer for the poisoning of [Jane’s] life?
And trying to balance the factors in the Rules of Court, I conclude that it is not and that justice would best be served, ultimately, with a grant of probation.
Brock's father, Dan A. Turner, also angered critics with his letter to the court, which argued he should not face jail time.
"His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve," the father wrote. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life."
Turner served three months of his six-month sentence. He was released in September 2016.
What did Persky say about the reaction?
Critics called the judge's sentence biased and too lenient. Persky was also a former Stanford athlete.
“I was surprised at the amount of the backlash,” Persky said during a news conference. “I was sitting in my chambers and I got an email that said, ‘Dear Judge Persky. How does it feel to be the most hated man in America?'”
But Persky said his judicial record shows no pattern of bias.
“We ask judges to follow the rule of law and not the rule of public opinion,” Persky said. “We have to be able to give people due process without fear of losing our jobs, without fear of what may come from that decision.”
He also talked about the toll this has taken on his family.
“How many judges want to drive down the streets of their neighborhood with their two children in the car and see a lawn sign with their father’s picture next to a mug shot?” Persky asked. “How many judges want to come home someday and find this political mailer addressed to their wife and this mailer accuses the judge of failing to protect his community?”
The judge didn't discuss the specifics on the Turner case since it's still under appeal, but he cited the California Commission on Judicial Performance, which found that his ruling was within the law.
What did recall organizers say?
The organizers didn't change their stance on the recall vote.
“He said he stood by his decision and he indicated that he didn’t think it was fair for the voters to vote against him on this basis. Well, that’s our constitution in the state of California,” Michele Dauber, a recall organizer, told KPIX.