Judge's Credibility In Question After Domestic Abuse Arrest
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Charges of domestic abuse have also been made against a federal judge in Alabama. Judge Mark Fuller was arrested last month for allegedly beating his wife, and there are calls for him to resign. From member station WBHM in Birmingham, Andrew Yeager reports.
ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: Kelli Fuller picked up the phone and called 911 from a downtown Atlanta hotel on a Saturday night in August. She was there with her husband, Judge Mark Fuller. In the call broadcast by CNN, Kelli Fuller tells dispatchers she needs help.
(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Kelli? Kelli? OK, she needs an ambulance. I'm sending the police. They're in the domestic fight now at the Ritz-Carlton.
KELLI FULLER: Please help me.
YEAGER: According to a police report, authorities arrived to find a room with broken glass. They smelled alcohol. Kelli Fuller had cuts on her face. She told police her husband became violent after she accused him of an affair. He said she became violent when confronting him and he was defending himself. Mark Fuller is a former District Attorney, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, to serve as a Federal District Court judge in Montgomery, Alabama. Judge Fuller is most noted for presiding over the corruption case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. The list of people calling for Judge Fuller's resignation is growing. Alabama's two Republican senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions say he should step down, as does the state's Democratic congresswoman, Terri Sewell. Judge Fuller's attorney, Barry Ragsdale, says we don't have all the facts.
BARRY RAGSDALE: Neither the 911 call, the public interpretation of that call, or the police incident report tell the full story.
YEAGER: This month, Judge Fuller entered a pretrial diversion program. That means he admits no guilt, attends counseling and submits to a drug and alcohol assessment. If he completes that, Judge Fuller would face no prosecution and could have his record expunged. Defense Attorney Ragsdale insists Judge Fuller is not getting special treatment, and he says this is a standard offer with a first-time misdemeanor offense. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Judge Fuller, has reassigned all of his cases and opened an investigation; an investigation his defense attorney says is welcomed.
RAGSDALE: We want the investigation from the 11th circuit to run its course. We think once that investigation is completed, that's the time to decide whether or not the evidence justifies him resigning from his position, but not before then.
YEAGER: Such an investigation could lead to disciplinary action. Punishments could range from a private reprimand to a recommendation of impeachment. Since federal judges are appointed for life, impeachment is the only way to remove a judge against his or her will. Only 15 federal judges, though, have ever been impeached and only eight of those were convicted and removed from office. And a federal judge punished for a domestic dispute...
CYNTHIA GRAY: I can't think of a case, and I can't even remember it being reported in the newspaper, in my memory. And I've been doing this 24 years.
YEAGER: Cynthia Gray is with the American Judicature Society, an independent nonpartisan group that focuses on judicial ethics. She says federal rules for judicial misconduct can include actions from a judge's personal life. But even if there's just an allegation a judge violated the law, Kevin Burke says that's a problem. He's past president of the American Judges Association, a professional education organization.
KEVIN BURKE: It absolutely is going to cause legitimate concern about - are the judges fair? And are the judges trustworthy? Are their decisions legitimate? I think that's just obvious.
YEAGER: Most domestic violence cases are heard in state or local courts, but some do fall under federal law. Judge Fuller's defense attorney believes this incident won't have a profound effect on the judge's credibility, or that it's an impeachable offense. But the number of people who disagree seems to be growing by the day. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.