An Orange County judge who is being threatened with recall for giving a child molester a lenient prison sentence contends he is a respected jurist who is the victim of a “misleading” campaign.
Judge M. Marc Kelly’s response to the recall threat marks the first time he has addressed the controversy since he gave a convicted child molester less than the state minimum prison sentence on April 3.
The 10-year sentence for a man convicted of sodomizing a 3-year-old girl unleashed a firestorm of anger from politicians and others, who vowed to recall the judge from office.
But in a six-point defense, which was filed Monday with the Orange County Registrar of Voters, Kelly fought back for the first time.
Kelly wrote that the $2.3 million that a recall election could cost taxpayers was wasteful, that his "tough on crime” reputation as a judge weighed in his favor and urged voters to “keep politics out of our courtrooms.”
Kelly did not allude to the case that spurred the recall effort.
In making his ruling, Kelly said sentencing Kevin Rojano-Nieto, 20, to the legal minimum of 25 years behind bars would have been “cruel and unusual.” The judge said Rojanto-Nieto seemed remorseful and did not fit the profile of a sexual predator.
But county supervisors and community activists said Kelly had overstepped his bounds as a judge and that the young victim needed to be protected.
Notice of a group’s intent to begin the recall process was filed May 4 with the county registrar of voters, leaving Kelly with seven days to file his response.
In his statement, Kelly urged voters not to sign the petition for a recall election, describing it as “misleading.” He said he has been a “respected judge” during his 15 years on the bench, sentencing defendants to life or the maximum in “the vast majority of sexual assault trials” and presiding over “serious cases” prosecuted by the district attorney’s office.
He described his integrity as “unassailable,” saying, “I’ve been married 29 years. We’ve raised two sons in Orange County. We are devoted members of our Church.”
As some criminal defense attorneys have argued publicly in previous weeks, Kelly also categorized the petition as “an attack on judicial independence.”
Kelly wrote: “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians. A judge who doesn’t follow the Constitution today won’t follow it tomorrow when your rights are at stake.”
Once the recall petition is finalized, the group will have 160 days to collect 90,829 valid signatures in order or it to qualify for the ballot.
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