Preliminary numbers suggest voters will oust Judge Corey following no-jail plea deal
With a majority of precincts reporting, incomplete election returns show an Anchorage Superior Court judge narrowly trailing in a retention vote, with a little more than half of voters choosing not to retain him.
In September, Judge Michael Corey found himself embroiled in a national controversy that would threaten his future on the bench, after approving the no-jail plea deal in Justin Schneider’s case.
Schneider lured an Alaska Native woman into his car with the promise of a ride to Muldoon, then took her to a dead-end road in a Turnagain neighborhood where he strangled her unconscious and masturbated on her. He told her he needed her to think she was going to die in order to achieve sexual satisfaction.
The victim could not be reached by phone on the day of the hearing, and had no voice in the plea agreement.
Within days of the plea deal, shock and outrage rippled across the nation as news of the “no jail time” agreement spread through the Lower 48.
Meanwhile, sexual assault survivor Elizabeth Williams mobilized a grassroots campaign to oust Judge Corey, whose name would appear on the November ballot among 14 other judges standing for retention.
Williams, and other critics, believe Judge Corey should have used his power to reject the plea deal, or at least call for a continuance to gather more information. They also note that while Judge Corey spent more than seven minutes explaining his decision to accept the plea deal, he failed to specifically address or acknowledge Schneider’s victim.
Tuesday night, Williams reacted to early election results, calling it a potential "somber victory."
"We don't take joy in a man losing his job and I have no ill will for Michael Corey, I believe he's a good man and husband and father. We don't wish him ill, but we do believe that he did fail at his job in this case and so I do see it as a victory for Alaskans everywhere, especially victims of crime who have been let down for far too long by our judicial system," said Williams.
Supporters countered that Judge Corey’s hands were tied, due to what Gov. Bill Walker called a “loophole” in state law that didn’t allow prosecutors to charge him with a sex crime. They believe the campaign to oust him is an injustice in response to injustice, and encouraged voters to push for changes in the law rather than remove a judge over a legal result.
The Alaska Judicial Council recommended every judge on the ballot for retention, including Corey. The council’s method is said to be “the gold standard” when it comes to judicial evaluation at the state level, and includes surveying thousands of Alaskans: attorneys, members of law enforcement, court employees, and jurors.
While Judge Corey received high marks, those campaigning against him noted that the surveys and recommendation were completed before news broke of the Schneider plea deal, though it’s unclear what effect, if any, the Schneider case would have had on his standing with the council.
Since the Council began evaluating judges for retention in 1976, voters have never before chosen to remove a judge from the bench who was recommended for retention by the Council.
Judge Corey has been on the bench since 2014, and was appointed by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. Tuesday's vote marks his first retention election.
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