Calling for the heads of judges for being soft on crime used to be a pastime of fed-up conservatives. Progressives have traditionally opposed politicizing judgeships often because they tend to see the judicial branch as the last line of defense to protect marginalized populations.
But in 2018, the political landscape has become so topsy-turvy that almost none of those old assumptions can apply, and Saturday morning, more than three dozen protestors rallied in front of the Boney Courthouse on K and 4th to call for voters to kick out state court judge Michael Corey, for his decision to accept a plea deal that meant no additional jail time for Justin Schneider, the air traffic controller who admitted to kidnapping then masturbating onto a young Native woman.
Corey, and numerous legal scholars have defended the plea deal by pointing out the judge's hands were tied because Alaska law does not consider contact with semen to be a sex crime.
The protestors on hand Saturday weren't buying that justification, and beyond that, they were calling attention to a culture of rape and mistreatment of women - especially Native women - that has helped Alaska lead the nation in crimes against women.
"This is about injustice at a systemic level that includes racism, violence and toxic patriarchal masculinity," said Lisa Wade-Member, the Health Eduation Social Services Director and Council Member for the Chickaloon tribe. "What happened to that young sister is something that will be with her for the rest of her life, and when another injustice happens - and we know it will because the people of Alaska have allowed Alaska to be treated like a man camp - we will have to relive that."
A voter registration table was also available outside the courthouse on Saturday. As Nicole Borromeo, general council for the Alaska Federation of Natives, pointed out, Alaska does not have elections for judges per se, but those judges appointed by the governor do face a regular vote of confidence from the electorate. That vote of confidence on Corey comes due again on Nov. 6.
"(Schneider) masturbated all of this Alaska Native woman. He did it on her face, her hair and that is what she woke up to. She called 9-1-1, she relayed the license plate, she picked him out of a lineup and then the judicial system did something wrong because she ceased to cooperate," Borromeo said. "This is not all on Judge Corey, but let me be clear, he was the last one who could have put a check on it. He could have rejected the plea bargain because this goes against our values. It doesn't send the message that these crimes are no longer acceptable."
Judge Corey wasn't entirely without his supporters at the rally. While the bulk of the crowd held up #metoo and anti-Corey-inspired signs, which were distributed freely to anyone who didn't come with their own, Kieran Braun stood alone in the back with a placard that read, 'Change the law, keep the judge.'
Needless to say, the sign caused some consternation and debate, which was just what Braun wanted.
"I'd want to see the law changed to where unwanted contact with semen is a sex crime. It seems like a simple change and that's why I'm here," said Braun, who added that Corey was his his youth hockey coach 10 years ago, but he hasn't seen him since. "Why don't we use our energy to try to change what we can, instead of scapegoating one person?"
Braun said he's been a fan of his former coach's work on the bench from afar, and Elizabeth Williams, an Anchorage social worker who started the official effort to remove the judge, said there's nothing in Corey's body of work that could be construed as especially negative, but his behavior in the Schneider case renders his good standing irrelevant.
"There were a lot of mistakes made but ultimately it's the judge that's responsible," Williams said. "The final check that is supposed to stand up to inappropriate plea deals and consider the impact to the victim."
Williams said that even if the judge just had 'one bad day', that's enough to warrant his removal and makes him more than an unfortunate scapegoat or a symbol for a movement.
"If a bad day makes you do something like that, you shouldn't be a judge. We have to have a higher judicial standard at all times," Williams said. "I think he made a big mistake; it's not a little slip-up. There were so many things in that plea deal. He could have stood up. And his tone was fatherly, he admonishes (Schneider) like a child. So he is a symbol, but he did something in and of himself."
Williams acknowledged the irony of mostly liberal voices calling for the removal of a judge who went soft, but also noted the movement she's started has crossed numerous political boundaries.
"I think there is a blend here, maybe on the liberal side they're more concerned about the victim and some conservatives are supporting us to be tough on crime, so maybe they're converging together," Williams said. "(The Alaska movement) is similar (to the national #metoo) because here's it's non-partisan. It is politicial because it is a campaign, but I've been on conservative talk radio, I've talked with Democratic Socialsts supporting me because they all think this job was messed up."