In recent days, the story of wife-beating U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller has finally garnered attention among the media, as well as a number of the elected officials who would be responsible for impeaching the 2002 George W. Bush lifetime-appointee to the federal bench.
Fortunately, calls for accountability for the federal judge from Alabama's Middle District have now become a "virtual chorus" over these last few days. The state's Governor, as well as both of Alabama's U.S. Senators and its entire Congressional delegation, save for one member (Rep. Mike Rogers), have now called for Fuller's resignation and/or impeachment.
However, his resignation (and arguably his impeachment) would be far too generous for Fuller, as I'll discuss below, given previous allegations -- by his first wife -- that mirror what we now know about him, concerning drug and alcohol abuse, as well as physical abuse of both the first wife and their children...
Corporate media and members of Congress finally notice
On Wednesday, MSNBC's All in with Chris Hayes finally devoted an entire segment to the outrageous case which we first reported back in early August, just after Fuller had been arrested for beating his wife bloody at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. He was arrested by Atlanta Police following a 911 call from his second wife Kelli, during which she is heard being struck, asks for an ambulance, and implores the dispatcher: "Please help me. He's beating on me."
Just weeks later, Atlanta prosecutors -- perhaps not knowing about almost identical allegations of abuse by Fuller's previous wife Lisa in 2012, in documents that were mysteriously sealed during their divorce proceedings -- allowed Fuller to enter a pre-trial diversion program, requiring a few weeks of domestic abuse counseling to avoid prosecution and, if successfully completed, have his entire arrest record expunged as if nothing ever happened.
The plan -- which a senior Republican federal judge described last week as "a sweet deal...that will allow him to erase his criminal conviction for beating the crap out of his wife in a fancy hotel room while reeking with booze" -- would allow Fuller to return to his lifetime $200,000/year job where he sits in judgment of others, while leaving his next victim, whoever that might be, with little if any protection.
Early this week, Hayes played a portion of the chilling audio from the 911 call during which Fuller's wife is heard being repeatedly struck in their hotel room. On Wednesday night, Hayes played the horrifying audio again during a segment covering the then-new calls for Fuller's resignation -- finally -- from powerful Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (R) (who nominated Fuller to the bench 12 years ago) and the state's junior Senator Jeff Sessions (R), among others in the state's Congressional delegation. The sudden outcry, sparked only after outrage over the NFL/Ray Rice domestic violence controversy, leads one of Hayes' guests, Alabama Media Group journalist Chuck Dean, to speculate that it's just "a matter of time", before Fuller finally steps down...
Given the additional information we have about Fuller, however, above and beyond what we know about him beating his current wife bloody in that Atlanta hotel room last month, resignation without further penalty would be a gift, as would impeachment, for that matter.
"If Congress impeaches federal judge Mark Fuller following last month's domestic violence arrest, he will become only the 12th judge in U.S. history to be removed in that fashion and the first from Alabama," writes AL.com's Kent Faulk.
Impeachment for a federal judge requires charges filed in the U.S. House followed by conviction in the U.S. Senate. As Faulk explains:
Of the 3,522 federal judges that have served around the nation since 1789, the impeachment process has been used only 15 times --- and only five times in the past 78 years, according to the Federal Judicial Center.But of those 15 judges who were impeached by the U.S. House, four of them were later acquitted during the trial before the U.S. Senate and kept their jobs. Of the 11 others who were impeached, three resigned before the Senate trial.
...But none of those judges have been impeached resulting from charges of domestic violence.
One of the last judges to be impeached was Samuel B. Kent, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. He was impeached by the U.S. House on June 19, 2009, on charges of sexual assault, obstructing and impeding an official proceeding, and making false and misleading statements, according to the Federal Judicial Center. He resigned 11 days later.
I've seen conflicting information about whether or not Fuller would be allowed to receive a pension if he resigned. Some have said he would only be entitled to benefits if he was allowed to retire. According to a quick read of the U.S. Code's Title 28, Chapter 17 on "Resignation and Retirement of Justices and Judges" of the U.S. Code, however, retirement appears to be allowed only after at least 15 years of service, at the age of 65 or older. Fuller is 55, and has served on the bench for only 12 years. Some members of Congress have suggested, however, that, short of impeachment, Fuller would be allowed to receive benefits for life, if he resigns. Senior Judge Richard G. Kopf, in a blistering blog item condemning Fuller, suggests a deal could be struck with the Chief Judge of the 11th Circuit and the Circuit's Judicial Council to "Pay him forever as an inducement to resign". Kopf says that 28 U.S.C. § 354(a)(2)(A)(ii-iii) & § 354(a)(2)(B)(ii) "gives them that leverage."
So, if allowed to resign and receive such a pay off, Fuller would be getting a great deal. Impeachment is certainly the appropriate course of action here, but that is very difficult under any circumstances, much less this particular Congress. It's also, much better than he appears to deserve.
But Fuller is not necessarily off the hook for prosecution in a court of law yet. The terms of his plea deal, reportedly, require that, in addition to attending once-a-week domestic abuse counseling for 24 weeks, Judge Fuller must also receive an evaluation concerning drug and alcohol abuse by a court-approved entity.
If he successfully completes those requirements, only then will his arrest record be permanently expunged.
Fuller's attorney, after the plea deal was approved in state court with the consent of Fuller's wife Kelli, the victim in this case, stated that the federal judge "doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem and never has."
That, like the claim that he is a first time offender in regard to domestic abuse, does not appear to be true, at least according to Fuller's first wife Lisa who filed a damning Request for Admissions during their 2012 divorce, after Fuller was allegedly discovered to have been having an affair with his court bailiff, Kelli, who he eventually married (and subsequently beat the hell out of last month, after shesimilarly accused him of having an affair with his law clerk.)
According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in 2012, the first wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, "submitted an objection to her husband's motion to seal their divorce file...She agreed to redact certain sensitive information but 'strenuously object[ed] to sealing the entire file,' according to her response. Her initial complaintand request for admissions accuse Fuller of extramarital affairs, domestic violence and prescription drug abuse."
Despite the objections from his first wife, the court agreed to seal the record at the time, which is unusual, according to legal expert Scott Horton of Harper's, who wrote: "It's an obviously improper decision, particularly because Mrs. Fuller rejected to the sealing of the file. For the file to be sealed, over the objection of one party, is unusual."
While the claims contained in Lisa Fuller's April 20, 2012 Request for Admissions are only allegations, we are not able to see how Judge Fuller responded to them, thanks to that portion of the record becoming sealed. However, in 2012, Alabama journalist Roger Shuler was able to obtain and publish Mrs. Fuller's Request for Admissions and it is damning, disturbing, and apparently completely ignored by the Atlanta prosecutors and court which both appear ready to let Judge Fuller off the hook with far less than a slap on the wrist.
The document contains disturbing references to alcohol and prescription drug abuse and sexual impropriety, as well as physical abuse of both the first Mrs. Fuller and their children.
Here are the bullet points from that document [emphasis added], since these earlier allegations have, to date, been seemingly ignored by both authorities in Atlanta who are letting him off the hook, and elected officials who seems as if they'll be happy with his little more than his resignation...
"You and I both took an oath to uphold the law," Fuller declared from the bench to Siegelman, with whom he held a long time grudge. "You have violated that oath," the judge said in 2007, before ordering Siegelman shackled in leg irons and shuffled off to jail for 6.5 years. The unusually harsh treatment by the former Karl Rove client turned federal judge, appointed by Rove's then boss in the White House, was meted out, Fuller said, because as a public official, the Governor had to be held to a higher standard.
No such higher standard has been applied, to date, to Mark Fuller, despite a record of what appears to be repeated domestic abuse. He has been held to no standard at all, in fact.
Given the allegations in his own now-sealed divorce records with his first wife --- allegations that appear to mirror almost precisely what we now know about the more recent abuse of his second wife --- Judge Fuller would be lucky to escape with only impeachment, much less resignation. The evidence now on the record concerning U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller strongly suggests he should be in jail, before he can hurt --- or kill --- even one more victim.