Official attempt underway to recall O.C. Superior Court judge

Efforts to recall an Orange County judge who handed down a controversial sentence are officially underway

A group behind the effort to recall an Orange County Superior Court judge filed the necessary paperwork Monday with the county's Registrar of Voters to get the process underway.

Judge M. Marc Kelly has come under fire in recent weeks for what some say was an inappropriate sentencing of a convicted child molester.

Kelly handed down a shorter-than-required prison term -- 10 years instead of the legal minimum of 25 -- in early April, explaining that the guilty 20-year-old seemed remorseful and didn't fit the profile of a sexual predator. 

The Orange County district attorney's office has appealed the case, and several lawyers stepped forward to say that the judicial process should be allowed to evaluate the sentencing without the interference of politics.

But a group of incensed activists want Kelly gone, and their charge has been supported by the Orange County Board of Supervisors' call for Kelly's resignation.

Bryan Scott, who started a Facebook page to draw attention to the issue; Patricia Wenskunas, founder and chief executive of Crime Survivors Inc.; and several crime victims approached Kelly's 10th-floor courtroom Friday morning to serve him the notice of the intent to recall him, Scott said. 

Before entering, the group was politely redirected to the court's general counsel. They also sent the notice by way of certified mail, Scott said. 

Getting the recall process going provided a sense of accomplishment, Scott said, but he noted that it felt akin to taking a "first step onto a boat for a long journey."

"It's going to be a very daunting task," said Scott, who has been asking for volunteers and monetary contributions through a website, recalljudgemarckelly.com.

Attorney Paul Meyer, president of the Orange County Criminal Defense Bar Assn., who has argued against the recall, reiterated his concern about the initiative in a prepared statement.

"An independent judiciary is critical to our freedoms," Meyer said last week. "This campaign is an attack on all judges." 

The statement, made on behalf of the association's board, continued: "The case is now on appeal. Why not wait for an appellate decision -- What if the appeal shows that Kelly was right?" 

In the next step of the recall process, Kelly will have seven calendar days to respond to a notice the Registrar of Voters planned to send Monday. 

Those leading the charge to get him off the bench will then be required to provide a draft petition to the registrar. Once the petition is finalized, the group will have 160 days to collect 90,829 valid signatures, Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said.

In the 30 days following, the registrar will verify that the signatures belong to active, registered Orange County voters, Kelley said.

If enough valid signatures have been collected, the Board of Supervisors will receive and file the registrar's certification and an election date will be set.

By his estimation, an election would not take place until, roughly, mid-March, Kelley said. 

A standalone election would cost between $1.9 million and $2.4 million, Kelley said, but it could also coincide with other elections.

"Don't throw away $2.4 million of taxpayer money," Meyer said, urging residents not to sign the petition.  

"There'a a way to avoid that," Scott said of the election costs. "Judge Kelly can step down."

emily.foxhall@latimes.com

For more Orange County news, follow me @emfoxhall

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