'This sentence was not my idea': Ousted judge discusses Schneider plea deal on Dr. Phil
Former Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Corey appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil on Friday, defending his actions in the case that spurred his ouster by voters last November.
A description of the show reads in part:
"Dr. Phil takes a closer look at what many call 'outrageously lenient sentences' for serious, high-profile crimes. Dr. Phil meets a former superior court judge who lost his job after giving zero jail time to a man who strangled a woman unconscious and threatened to kill her."
In September 2018, in a courtroom in which every person who had a voice was male, Justin Schneider struck a deal with the state. Jail time would not be part of his sentence for strangling an Alaska Native woman unconscious and masturbating on her in 2017. The survivor in the case was not present in the courtroom and had no say in the plea bargain.
In November 2018, Corey became the first judge with a recommendation of retention from the Alaska Judicial Council to be dismissed from the bench by Alaska voters.
Corey, who has declined multiple interview requests by KTVA, told his side of the story on the nationally televised talk show.
"I absolutely did my job by following the law of the State of Alaska," he is shown saying in a pre-produced clip. "One needs to understand that this was not an open sentencing. This was a plea bargain. This sentence was not my idea. I knew that this didn’t feel right. I really felt like I was strapped to a locomotive going off a cliff. I had to follow the law. Mr. Schneider was sentenced to two years, the maximum sentence that he could receive for that offense. One of those years was suspended, the other year he had effectively already served on ankle monitoring. Consequently, he walked out of the courtroom a free man, much to the chagrin of everyone, including myself. The majority of the voters in Alaska decided that I would not be retained for another term and so I stepped away."
Doubling down on his decision to approve the controversial outcome, Corey said, "If I had it to do all over again, my decision would be the same."
In discussion with Dr. Phil, Corey said the law didn't allow him to do more. Due to Schneider's lack of criminal history, and the fact that the Department of Law had dropped other charges, he was locked into a range of zero to two years.
Dr. Phil: One year was ankle monitor at home.
Corey: That’s correct.
Dr. Phil: There was another year available that could be given, you suspended that year.
Corey: That's corr — well, yes. I implemented a sentence that was the result of a plea bargain. This plea bargain was not my idea.
Dr. Phil: OK, but wait a minute. This is where I — this is where you lose me. So you do have the right to reject the plea bargain. Don’t tell me you don’t, cause you do.
Corey: Well, absolutely, and then it goes to the court of appeals and it gets reversed and it comes right back. What I’d like to know, if somebody disagrees with that, what would be the basis upon which to legitimately reject that plea bargain?
Dr. Phil: It is outrageous given the nature of the crime!
Former prosecutor and law lecturer Wendy Murphy confronted Corey.
"There’s so much wrong with what Judge Corey is saying," she argued. "In a case like this, your job should have been to say, 'I’m horrified that the prosecution dropped some of the important charges here. I’m horrified that my hands are tied, with no more than two years. And in order for me to do my job, which is to respect the integrity of this woman’s life and the horrifying nature of this crime and the public’s interest in making sure this doesn’t happen again, I have to send a message. And all I have is two years maximum to send that message. I’m giving him two years, period.' That’s what you should have done, Judge Corey, and you didn’t do it."
Corey told Murphy she "just doesn't understand the situation."
Dr. Phil continued, asking Corey, "If you felt that strongly about it, you could have rejected the plea bargain. Correct?"
"No," Corey responded. "The answer is there was no legitimate basis upon which to reject that plea bargain."
Former District Attorney Michael Kraut, also a guest on the show, called Corey's ruling a rubber stamp, saying, "I’m a defense attorney now, I live for judges who make mistakes or do what you do."
The segment focusing on the Schneider case ended with Corey explaining that rejecting the plea deal would have meant a trial in which the most time Schneider could get would still be two years. By suspending the sentence, the state was able to get Schneider to agree to undergo sex offender treatment — something that would not have been an option at trial because Alaska law did not consider Schneider's crimes as sexual offenses at the time.
In July, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed House Bill 14 into law, closing what became known as the 'Schneider Loophole.'
HB 14 makes unwanted contact with semen a sex crime, ends the practice of giving defendants credit toward their sentence for time spent on an ankle monitor before trial in sexual assault cases and it increases the penalties for assaults in which a victim is strangled to the point of unconsciousness — all changes that would have impacted the outcome of Schneider's case. It also requires that prosecutors notify victims of sex crimes before making plea deals.
The measure is the result of legislative advocacy by No More Free Passes, a grassroots campaign formed in response to the Schneider case and bipartisan support from lawmakers.
Corey is now working as a senior attorney handling civil cases for the Anchorage law firm Brena, Bell & Walker.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the victim was present in the courtroom and incorrectly reference Corey when mentioning Schneider's criminal history. This has been amended.
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