SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A 19-year-old Stanford student and swimmer named Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2016. Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail with community service. He was released in three. Many were outraged by what seemed a lenient sentence for a young, white male. The campaign began to recall the judge. And this summer, Judge Persky will face a recall vote. But there are some legal scholars who are opposed.
LaDoris Cordell is a retired superior court judge in California. She was an assistant dean at Stanford Law School and was the first woman African-American judge in Northern California and a staunch women's rights advocate. She joins us now from Stanford University. Thanks so much for being with us.
LADORIS CORDELL: It's good to be here, Scott.
SIMON: Why are you opposed to this recall for Judge Persky?
CORDELL: I am against the recall for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I believe it is a dangerous threat to the independence of the judiciary because those who are supporting it have misconstrued and actually lied about Judge Persky, his background. He has no record of bias or misconduct. And I'm opposed to it because I believe this recall is terrible for racial justice.
SIMON: Explain that to us, please.
CORDELL: So what happens if this recall succeeds? If it succeeds, it sends a message to every judge on every court in California and really beyond because what happens in California doesn't stay in California. It tends to spread out through the nation. And so a lot of the defendants are young people - and mostly males - of color - Latino and African-American. They are the ones who are going to receive the sentencings of these judges who are going to be hesitant, if not fearful, to impose a leniency in a sentence.
And I'm very concerned about what's happening in this country, starting with the administration in Washington. It's had a trickle-down effect where the judiciary is now targeted by those who just think, well, they're not doing - they - judges are not doing what we want, so let's just toss them all out. The whole legitimacy of our judiciary is at stake here.
SIMON: Your Honor, what about those people who just find a six-month sentence for sexual assault as an example of a legal system that is tilted against women coming forward?
CORDELL: Well, you raise a good point, Scott. And so the district attorney of Santa Clara County opposes this recall. He said the problem is not the judge. The problem was the law. And so he took the lead in quickly, after the sentencing took effect, of proposing a bill to change the law so that anyone henceforth who is convicted of the offenses which this young man was convicted must face a mandatory minimum sentence of state prison. So the recall has gotten what it wanted. Why are they still then pursuing a judge who followed the law?
SIMON: And what about the argument, Your Honor, that although the judiciary should be independent and exercise independent judgment, they also have to be part of the times?
CORDELL: There's no question about that. And that's why in California, the law has been changed now to say, you know, that law that was in effect that gave judges the ability to grant probation to people who are convicted of these offenses is no longer the case. That's fine. But if we're saying judges have to respond to and react to whatever is happening in the community, that's not what judging is about. An independent judiciary is accountable to the people, and that's why once judges are on the bench, they are subject to re-election.
The other side has been claiming that, well, this recall is just an early election. And that's just not true. This is about one judge who made an unpopular decision, albeit lawful, who is now being targeted. And that's sad to me - very, very sad - because the hardest thing that judges do is sentence. In sentencings, we bring in our subjectivity and also objectivity. We have rules we are to abide by. But in the end, it's about doing what we believe to be right. And if that means imposing a sentence that someone might disagree with, that's part of the system. That's how it works, as long as what we're doing is lawful.
And if judges are so out of step with what's happening in the legal world and in the community, when they're up for re-election, that can be addressed. But we don't - we should never say to a good and decent judge, well, I'm unhappy with one thing you did. Therefore, you have to go.
SIMON: LaDoris Cordell, retired California superior court judge. Thanks so much for being with us, Your Honor.
CORDELL: Thank you.
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