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 sodomized a 3-year-old relative failed to meet Thursday’s deadline to submit enough signatures to qualify the issue for the June ballot.

The chief executive and founder of Crime Survivors Inc. issued a statement conceding organizers fell short on the petition drive.

“While this first attempt at the recall of Judge Kelly for his extreme ruling against the safety of our children fell short of receiving enough funds to collect over 100,000 signatures, the issue remains at the forefront of the minds of tens of thousands of parents and families who believe he must and will be held accountable,” said Patricia Wenskunas of Crime Survivors Inc. “As always, we will continue our efforts to support crime survivors and be the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley confirmed the organizers failed to make the 5 p.m. deadline Thursday.

Bryan Scott, who led the effort to oust Kelly, did not respond to requests for comment.

Kelly’s critics needed 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 have been 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 … I’ve sent hundreds of violent criminals to prison. Over 115 Superior Court judges support me.”

Kelly said the effort to oust him was an “attack on judicial independence.”

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, it was his comments to justify the ruling, which the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is appealing.

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 situation involving a stranger.

“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.”

“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 child.

“What? Was she wearing hot-pants diapers? It boggles the mind,” Scott said.

–City News Service

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