“If a party disagrees with a judge’s ruling, the remedy is an appeal, not a proposed recall of an independent constitutional officer,” Judge Donna Geck wrote in response to the proposed recall attempt against her. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

It’s recall season in California. Hard on the heels of the attempted take down of Governor Gavin Newsom last September, recalls around the state earlier this month removed three members of the San Francisco school board and the sheriff of Shasta County, according to Dan Walters at CalMatters, by constituents on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Here in Santa Barbara, a group of families upset with a Superior Court judge are actively pursuing a recall vote against her, publishing a Notice of Intention to Circulate Recall Petition in the News-Press on February 8.

The names of judges rarely appear on any ballot, even though their terms last only six years. Judges seldom face an opponent — what attorney would run against a judge before whom they might someday appear? — and the rules state that an unopposed judge need not be on the ballot. Even rarer is a recall, with this one against Judge Donna Geck a first, said Renee Bischof of the County Elections office.

Led by Aurelie Rose, who runs a foreign-language school and is the mother of a young child, the recall effort has drawn the interest of five to 10 families, who contacted her with similar stories of dissatisfaction with Geck’s decisions, Rose said. She declined to discuss their contentions but said that in her dissolution of marriage and subsequent custody battles, she felt Judge Geck did not listen to her and had a bias toward her former husband, whom she called more well-connected and well-funded.

In her case, Rose wanted to visit France with her daughter so she could build a relationship with her relatives, but the judge took her child’s passport, said Rose. They had visited before and returned each time: “I am here to stay, and I am now a proud citizen of the United States. I am not a flight risk.” 

Rose also found it unfair that the judge awarded the father 100 percent of the decision-making in issues of education, health, and religion for their daughter, over whom they have shared custody. Rose had been represented by an attorney whose license was suspended this month, and she now represents herself, though she is not an attorney.

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Rose said she started the recall campaign after seeing it happen in other places. “I started digging into that, trying to figure out what kind of rights we have,” she explained. A couple of hurdles remain before Rose can begin to collect the more than 12,000 petition signatures to put the recall on the ballot, but if her documents are in order, the timing is right for November’s vote. As for Geck’s possible successor, “There are attorneys in town who are thinking of being on the recall ballot if it runs,” Rose said.

In response to questions from the Independent, Geck, whose current term ends in 2024, sent a copy of her answer to Rose’s Notice of Intention. In it, she denies any bias or prejudice, writing that she follows the law, reads the complete court file before making a decision, and presents her decision carefully, guided by the best interests of the child. She noted that only one person who signed the Notice had a matter in her courtroom, which was denied and not appealed. (Other signers include Aimee Smith and Maria Kaestner, who comment at the Board of Supervisors regularly against COVID restrictions; Rose told this reporter that questions about vaccination detracted from her legal issue.) 

In her answer, Geck wrote: “If a party disagrees with a judge’s ruling, the remedy is an appeal, not a proposed recall of an independent constitutional officer.” 

Before she was appointed to the bench in 2010 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Geck had been a civil litigator for 14 years, according to her Superior Court profile. Judge Geck has recused herself from Rose’s case.

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