The first California judge to be recalled in more than 80 years, who was ousted from office amid public outrage over a light jail sentence he handed down in a high-profile sexual assault case, is asking supporters for donations to pay off legal fees by the end of the year.
Former Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky faced widespread scrutiny that culminated in a successful recall campaign after he sentenced Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student, to six months in jail and three years’ probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2015 behind a garbage bin on the Palo Alto university’s campus.
Persky, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, unsuccessfully fought the campaign and was booted from office by voters in June.
In a recent email with the subject line “A Final Ask,” Persky implores his supporters to donate money through his campaign committee, Retain Judge Persky, so that he can use the funds to pay $135,000 in court-ordered attorney fees incurred during his legal fight against the recall. The fees are due Dec. 31.
Persky wrote in the email that his campaign committees, which public records show raised more than $700,000, spent all of their resources fighting the recall effort.
“If my campaign committee is unable to raise the money to pay the amount ordered, I will be personally liable for any balance owed,” he wrote.
Persky waged a legal fight against the recall in 2017, arguing in Santa Clara County Superior Court that, because judges are state officers, California’s secretary of state should have overseen the petition drive to qualify the measure for the ballot instead of the county registrar.
The court rejected that argument and, after the recall election, ordered him to pay more than $163,000 in fees to the attorney representing the recall campaign. The parties later reached a settlement to reduce the bill to $135,000.
Persky wrote that he “pursued the litigation so that Superior Court judges would benefit from the same procedural protections as other state officers who face recall elections.”
Attorney James McManis, whose law firm represented Persky for free during his court battle against the recall, said it’s understandable that the former judge is trying to raise money. He was critical of Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who is a family friend of the victim and was the public face of the recall, for seeking attorney fees.
“It’s not enough she took his job away and took his pension away and left him out on the street,” McManis said. “She wanted attorneys’ fees too.”
Persky didn’t meet California Public Employees’ Retirement System requirements to receive a pension by the time he left the bench, so he was required to take a lump sum — roughly $892,000 — that he had put into his pension fund plus interest. It is not clear whether he rolled that money into another fund or cashed it out.
Dauber contends that Persky brought the legal expense on himself when he “made the bad decision to repeatedly file frivolous lawsuits and appeals with the goal of stalling and causing expense.”