Orange County Superior Court. Photo by John Schreiber
Orange County Superior Court. Photo by John Schreiber

Organizers of the attempt to recall Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly for reducing a state-mandated life term for a man who sexually assaulted a toddler have until 5 p.m. Thursday to submit enough signatures to qualify the recall for the June ballot.

It’s not clear how well the signature-gathering drive has gone. The organization’s Facebook page last asked for donations on Oct. 30, and the last post is a link to a news article in November.

Bryan Scott, who has led the effort to oust Kelly, did not immediately respond to a request for comment today. A message left with a publicist for a recent signature-gathering event also was not immediately returned.

Kelly’s critics need at least 90,829 valid signatures from Orange County voters to qualify the recall for the ballot. In May, Scott said the group was aiming for 150,000 signatures to cover expected challenges from Kelly.

The recall election would be part of the June 7 presidential primary.

In a statement filed with the county’s Registrar of Voters, Kelly called the effort a “waste of $2.3 million of taxpayer money.”

The judge added, “I’ve been a respected judge for 15 years. In the vast majority of sexual assault trials, I’ve sentenced defendants to life or the maximum. I have a reputation for being tough on crime. The DA’s Office has prosecuted serious cases in my courtroom for years.

“I was a tenacious gang murder prosecutor, receiving the Victim Witness Outstanding Prosecutor award for gang murder crimes. I’ve sent hundreds of violent criminals to prison. Over 115 Superior Court judges support me.”

Kelly also said the effort to oust him was 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.”

Kelly also advised voters to not let “politicians intimidate judges” and to “keep politics out of our courtrooms.”

He added, “My integrity is unassailable. I was elected by voters as judge; rated exceptionally well qualified. I graduated from Notre Dame and the University of San Diego Law School. I’ve been married 29 years. We’ve raised two sons in Orange County. We are devoted members of our church.”

Scott said it wasn’t necessarily Kelly’s decision to lessen the state- mandated sentence against Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto that got him in hot water with the activists looking to recall him, it was his comments to justify the ruling that roiled them.

On April 3, Kelly deviated from the mandated 25 years to life sentence and sent Rojano-Nieto to prison for 10 years, a ruling that is under appeal. Scott said the judge’s critics are particularly incensed at the way he tried to explain that the 20-year-old’s attack on his 3-year-old relative was different than a stranger-danger situation.

“He was playing video games and she wandered into the garage,” Kelly said. “He inexplicably became sexually aroused but did not appear to consciously intend to harm (the victim) when he sexually assaulted her… There was no violence or callous disregard for (the victim’s) well-being.”

Scott said in an interview in May that Kelly’s argument that the attack was not violent or callous “reversed 30 or 40 years of judicial evolution. We’ve gone from rape was a bad night of sex 40 or 50 years ago to it is a crime of inherent violence. And he dismisses the violent aspect of this rape specifically by saying he (Rojano- Nieto) had no violent intent or callous disregard for her safety. It’s ridiculous and it’s one of the reasons we’re so hell-bent on this.”

The attack on the girl was worse than a stranger assault, Scott argued.

“This man not only violated her body, but he violated her sense of trust and love,” he said.

Scott said he doesn’t buy the judge’s argument that the defendant was “inexplicably aroused” by the girl.

“What? Was she wearing hot-pants diapers? It boggles the mind,” Scott said. “There are a lot of victims out there who feel it’s victim blaming — that somehow if she hadn’t walked into his space she wouldn’t have been raped.”

— City News Service

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