Campaign over retention of Anchorage judge is low-dollar but high-emotion

Not much money has been spent on the fight over whether Alaska voters should retain Michael Corey, the Anchorage judge who presided over the controversial Justin Schneider plea agreement.

But that doesn't mean the question of whether the Superior Court judge will keep his job isn't one of the most contested and emotional on the ballot Tuesday.

Corey found himself the target of a rare campaign against judicial retention after he approved a no-jail plea agreement for a man who choked and sexually assaulted an Alaska Native woman last year.

The Justin Schneider case went viral, making headlines internationally and sparking intense outrage locally. It has been widely debated in forums ranging from Facebook comments to newspaper editorial and op-ed columns.

Voters in Alaska's Third Judicial District, which encompasses a vast swath of Southwest and Southcentral Alaska from Unalaska to McCarthy, will vote on Tuesday on whether to retain Corey and eight other judges.

Days before before the election, neither side had spent $5,000.

['One free pass': The story behind the no-jail plea deal that drew outrage from Alaskans]

Elizabeth Williams and her brother, Isaac Williams, started the formal No More Passes Vote NO on Judge Michael Corey campaign and held a rally in early October.

They have had help from Nicole Borromeo, general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives, and community activists Samuel Johns and Michael Patterson, Elizabeth Williams said.

Donations from Alaska as well as from Montana, Oregon, Kentucky have trickled in. The biggest was $3,000, from Douglas Kegler, the CEO of a Florida-based software company.

The No on Corey campaign had raised a $3,350 by its last Alaska Public Offices Commission report on Oct. 28.

The campaign has used funds to pay for radio ads running in Third Judicial District communities, including one that features Borromeo, and targeted Facebook ads, Williams said. They also plan sign waving before the election.

A torrent of commentary pieces in the newspaper — even ones that disagree with the effort to vote out Corey —  have helped keep an important conversation going, Williams said.

Corey was appointed in 2014 by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Like the No on Corey campaign, the Vote Yes on Judge Corey group has done most of its communicating via Facebook.

The pro-Corey campaign filed for and received an exemption meant to keep the smallest campaigns simple to run, said Tom Lucas of the Alaska Public Offices Commission. That means the Yes on Corey campaign doesn't have to disclose fundraising or expenditures unless they exceed $5,000, he said.

The Corey effort has been pieced together with the help of family friends from youth hockey and neighbors, said Corey's wife, Dayna Corey.

"It's not really much of a campaign," said Dayna Corey. "When this started, so many friends and neighbors we've known for years came forward and said, 'What can we do? How can we get the word out about who Mike is?' "

Dayna Corey said the couple has spent money from their savings to fund the effort.

Dayna Corey said friends and neighbors have volunteered donations, but her husband was uncomfortable with the idea of taking them.

So far, they have paid for radio ads and targeted Facebook ads, she said. Corey was also filmed for a 30-second video for his Facebook page, she said.

Other than that, he hasn't been involved much because he's been busy, including presiding over a long trial, Dayna Corey said. He is also limited by strict judicial ethics rules on what he can do and say during the campaign.

"He's not a politician. He's not a professional fundraiser," she said. "He's a judge. He's just trying to keep his job."

No judge in Alaska history has been toppled by a grassroots campaign, though some have been voted out after a negative review from the Alaska Judicial Council.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at