A notorious federal judge has resigned under the threat of impeachment — and thus provided a harsh but useful lesson for civic activists everywhere.
According to a federal court order June 1, fellow judges within the Atlanta-based Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recommended to the national Judicial Council that Alabama U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller, shown at right during a courtroom appearance as a defendant, be impeached as a first step for removal from his lifetime appointment.
Fuller, a federal judge since 2002, announced through his attorneys his resignation effective Aug. 1.
The resignation provides important civic lessons in the career of a judge whose disgraceful conduct we have been documenting for six years. But the system has protected him until an Atlanta policeman arrested him last August in Atlanta on a misdemeanor charge of battery against his then-wife, Kelli Gregg Fuller. He is shown at left in a jail mugshot the morning of his arrest and at right in a later court appearance.
Fuller has also became widely known in legal reform circles for presiding over the 2006 trial and sentencing of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman in a federal corruption prosecution tainted by claims of gross legal irregularities. The Bush-era prosecution has been ratified by the courts and the Obama administration. Siegelman is not scheduled for release until mid-2017 for conduct that occurred in 1999.
Update: June 16 by Donald Watkins, prominent lawyer in Georgia and Alabama: A News Exclusive -- The Straw That Broke Mark Fuller’s Back.
A close study here and elsewhere of Fuller’s record has shown that his legally dubious decision-making has:
- Benefited his political allies and other cronies;
- Inflicted great suffering on political and personal targets appearing in his court;
- Led to his involvement in repeated personal scandals; and
- Received until now minimal correction from timid oversight systems in the courts, Executive Branch and congress.
Alabama blogger Roger Shuler summed up the abuses in a column this week, Mark Fuller was the face of a system that allowed shadowy characters, like Bob Riley, to avoid scrutiny. Shuler, who has written hundreds of columns about Siegelman, particularly his ordeals under Fuller, asserted a de facto alliance between the Republican judge Fuller and Siegelman's Republican rival, two-term Gov. Bob Riley (2003-2011).
"Fuller played a central role in the most notorious political prosecution of the period — and perhaps in American history — when he presided over the case of former governor Don Siegelman in the Middle District of Alabama," wrote Shuler, who has fled Alabama with his wife after they were charged with contempt of court in a libel case brought by a prominent Alabama attorney Rob Riley, son of the former governor Riley and himself a prospective congressional candidate. Shuler, arrested on the contempt charge and beaten in his garage by a deputy sheriff, was convicted in state "kangaroo court" proceedings of resisting arrest. He was held without bond through his trial for five months until he agreed in March 2014 to spike his columns about the younger Riley, all in gross violation of federal First Amendment precedents, among other due process issues.
"Siegelman remains at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, for a crime he did not commit — for a "crime," in fact, that does not exist under U.S. law," Shuler continued. "But this is where the Mark Fuller story becomes breathtakingly dark. Under judges like Fuller, and prosecutors of the Bush Department of Justice, it's not just a matter of innocent people winding up behind bars. Such a broken system allows individuals who have genuine ties to criminality to operate with impunity."
Out of Fuller's gross misconduct, however, comes a valuable lesson for civic activists frustrated by other such derelictions nationally, especially in such normally prestigious positions as the judiciary and prosecution offices:
Shame those who enable official misconduct, not simply the miscreant.
That is a harsh and difficult remedy, especially for those with scant influence compared to a wealthy judge holding a lifetime appointment.
But recent developments illustrate the need for persistence.
Let's consider the incentives and risks for office-holders inclined to abuse their power. Those who achieve high-prestige posts often protect their colleagues, at least at first. That's both human nature and professional courtesy. Most abuses are not so flagrant as to be obvious without study.
But upstanding professionals do not want to be smeared by others' misconduct.
Fuller's conduct and that of his judicial peers fits this pattern, as does our reporting. Most recent was our Court Ruling Against Siegelman Compels New Strategies, a hard-hitting column last week that targeted the entire Atlanta-based U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. That appellate court presiding over federal litigation in Georgia, Alabama and Florida has been supervising Siegelman appeals and also a disciplinary investigation of Fuller following his arrest last August.
We shall return to this topic shortly, with a more comprehensive recap of Fuller's career, misconduct, and the forces that brought him down, including the heroic whistleblowers, other concerned citizens, journalists, lawyers and tiny few public officials who took a stand against hsi misconduct in a range of cases and personal scandals.
We began our coverage in May 2009 after an extensive investigation that the Huffington Post published on its front page: The Huffington Post published on its front page the first column, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company.
We have reported here upon such scandals many times since in the past six years, as indicated by a search of this site and of the links to a sample of columns below.
Among our exclusive reports was the first use of photos such as that below of taken by freelance photographer Phil Fleming of the then-rarely photographed judge.
Fleming told us the judge invited him and a courtroom sketch artist into judicial chambers to create portraits moments after the 2006 jury verdict in a second trial for Siegelman and co-defendant businessman Richard Scrushy on charges that Scrushy corrupted donated to a non-profit group to win reappointment to a gubernatorial commission in 1999. Fleming suggested to the judge that he "cut the Cheshire cat look" because smiling on such an occasion might look undignified.For now, we focus briefly on the news and lessons learned.
Finally, congratulations are in order for all those who brought this result. We shall recognize them at length in a future report.
But there has always been much more to this scandal than what has been on the surface. Even more frightening are the potential parallels elsewhere so long as the main facts in this remain so long long hidden.
Donald Watkins Facebook, A News Exclusive -- The Straw That Broke Mark Fuller’s Back, Donald V. Watkins, June 16, 2015. Yes, federal judge Mark Fuller is a wife beater. But, it was Fuller’s appetite for sex with a young woman who was not his wife that forced his resignation. Last August, Mark Fuller’s second wife, Kelli Fuller, told police that her husband became violent after she accused him of having an affair with a law clerk in his Montgomery office. Our Facebook news team has learned that Kelli was right when she accused Fuller of cheating. In fact, Fuller and his young paramour were caught in a compromising position in his office one night by a custodian in the courthouse. Federal investigators for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ judicial investigatory panel confirmed the affair and this sexual encounter. Editor's Note: Donald Watkins, shown in his Facebook photo, is a prominent Alabama attorney and businessman who took the lead amongst members in the Deep South bar in calling for the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who presided over the controversial imprisonment of Watkins client Richard Scrushy on corruption charges. Under pressure from many sources, Fuller (shown in a photo from one of his courtroom appearances as a defendant) offered to resign his lifetime appointment effective Aug. 1.
Related News Coverage
U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte & Conyers Statement on Judge Fuller Resignation, June 3, 2015. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) issued the following statement on the resignation of Middle District of Alabama Judge Mark Fuller, who was arrested in August 2014 for physically assaulting his wife in a hotel room in Atlanta, Georgia, a violation of state criminal law.
“It is a rare occasion when the U.S. Congress impeaches a federal judge and removes the accused from the bench, but it is a necessary tool to protect the integrity of our judicial system.
“However, the House Judiciary Committee was prepared to initiate impeachment proceedings against Judge Fuller pending the recommendation of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and the Committee strongly encouraged the courts to expedite the investigation into Judge Fuller’s misconduct.
“When it became clear that the 11th Circuit would issue an order that Judge Fuller’s conduct could constitute grounds for impeachment, Judge Fuller decided to resign in shame. Once his resignation becomes effective, he will not qualify for either a judicial salary or be eligible for a judicial pension. If Judge Fuller does not resign on August 1st, as stated in his resignation letter, the House Judiciary Committee will consider whether impeachment is warranted once the Judicial Conference issues its final report.”
Background: The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power and responsibility to impeach federal judges and the Senate the power to remove the accused from office after a fair and impartial hearing.
In December 2014, Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers sent a letter to Chief Judge Ed Carnes and Judge Gerald Tjoflat of the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit regarding the status of the investigation of Judge Fuller and the anticipated timeline for completion of the required comprehensive written report to the Circuit’s Judicial Council.
The Judicial Council of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit has now concluded their investigation and issued an order that found Judge Fuller’s conduct ‘might constitute one or more grounds for impeachment under article II of the Constitution.’ This recommendation has been sent to the Judicial Conference of the United States which makes the final recommendation to Congress.
Legal Schnauzer, Mark Fuller was the face of a system that allowed shadowy characters, like Bob Riley, to avoid scrutiny, Roger Shuler, June 3, 2015. The resignation of U.S. judge Mark Fuller likely is seen, for now, as the byproduct of a domestic-violence case. But the story goes much deeper than that.In many ways, Fuller was the face of a "justice system" that went badly off the tracks during the George W. Bush administration — and has remained off track under Barack Obama and his hapless attorney general, Eric Holder (shown at left). Our system is designed to prosecute crimes, but under Bush, it began to prosecute people — especially those who happened to be Democrats.
Legal Schnauzer, Order released today by Eleventh Circuit shows that Fuller was staring down the barrel at impeachment, Roger Shuler, June 1, 2015. A judicial panel today issued an order saying the conduct of Alabama federal judge Mark Fuller might "constitute one or more grounds for impeachment." That means Fuller was facing serious consequences when he announced his resignation last Friday, in the wake of his arrest last summer on domestic-abuse charges. U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat acted as chief judge in the Fuller matter. Ironically, Tjoflat also served on a three-judge panel that denied initial appeals in the Don Siegelman case. Fuller is best known for overseeing the Siegelman trial, which has come to be seen by many legal experts as perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in U.S. history. From an article by Alyson Palmer at the Atlanta-based Daily Report: When U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama tendered his resignation on Friday, his fellow judges apparently were preparing to send his case to a national judicial body for consideration of possible impeachment by Congress. On Monday the Judicial Council of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an order saying the conduct of Fuller, who was arrested on domestic abuse allegations in Atlanta last summer, "might constitute one or more grounds for impeachment." The order referred the matter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has the ability to send a judicial discipline matter to the House of Representatives for impeachment.
Al.com, Panel found possible grounds for impeaching judge Mark Fuller, Kyle Whitmire, June 1, 2015. A panel of federal judges found possible grounds for impeachment of District Judge Mark Fuller. Fuller, who was arrested last year in an Atlanta hotel room on charges of domestic abuse, resigned his appointment to the federal bench on Friday. In a two-sentence letter to the president, Fuller said that his last day would be August 1. Fuller will not handle casework before then, his lawyer said. However, it now appears that Fuller's resignation was meant to stop a process of impeachment before it began.
New York Times, Federal Judge to Quit Post; He Faced Abuse Charge, Jada F. Smith, May 29, 2015. A federal judge who was arrested last summer in Atlanta on accusations of domestic abuse resigned on Friday. The judge, Mark E. Fuller of the Middle District of Alabama, was arrested and charged with battery in August when Kelli Fuller, then his wife, called the police from a Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, saying he had assaulted her during an argument about her suspicions that he was having an extramarital relationship with a law clerk.
AL.com, Federal judge Mark Fuller resigns, Edward T. Bowser and Kyle Whitmire, May 29, 2015. United States District Court Judge Mark Fuller has given his resignation to the president and will step down from the bench Aug. 1. Fuller's lawyer, Barry Ragsdale, confirmed that the judge sent a letter to the president this week. Beyond that, Ragsdale said he could not comment and that the disciplinary procedures of the 11th Circuit are confidential. Last August, Fuller was arrested in an Atlanta hotel room after a domestic dispute with his then-wife, Kelli Fuller. He was charged with misdemeanor battery, but he later entered into an agreement with the court there to have his record expunged upon receiving counseling and completing a domestic violence program. Since his arrest, Fuller's caseload in federal court had been reassigned and he has been on paid leave. He will not be hearing cases between now and August, his lawyer said. Multiple public officials, including both Alabama Senators and the state's congressional delegation, have called on Fuller to resign, and Rep. Terri Sewell has encouraged Congress to pursue his impeachment. Friday night, Sewell, D-Birmingham, said news of Fuller's resignation was a "welcome outcome to a very painful breach of the public trust. "Fuller failed to uphold our most fundamental values. Perhaps the only consolation is that he has chosen to spare his family and our nation of the expense of a drawn out impeachment process," she said. A federal judge since 2002, Fuller presided over the public corruption trial of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
Legal Schnauzer, Mark Fuller joins an infamous list of federal judges who managed to screw up incredibly sweet gigs, Roger Shuler, June 10, 2015.In the world of employment, being a U.S. judge has to be one of the sweetest gigs on the planet. What kind of person can screw up a job where you almost can't screw up? Well, we know Mark Fuller is that kind of person. And our research shows that, since 1970, at least five other federal judges have proven to be that kind of person.
Associated Press via ABC News, 11th Circuit Files Complaint Against Alabama Federal Judge Mark Fuller, Staff report, Aug. 20, 2014. U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat, acting as the chief judge of the 11th Circuit, sent U.S District Judge Mark Fuller a complaint following his arrest to begin the judicial discipline process outlined under federal law, Fuller's attorney, Barry Ragsdale said. While federal judges serve lifetime appointments and can be removed only through impeachment, legal experts say they also are subject to administrative procedures that can result in censure, reprimands or a request for their resignation. Fuller has three weeks to respond to the complaint by Tjoflat.
Above the Law, Clerkships, Crime, Federal Judges, Sex, Sex Scandals, Violence, Staci Zaretsky, Aug. 15, 2014. Federal Judge Accused Of Beating His Wife Allegedly Has Sleazy History With Women. Earlier this week, we brought our readers the sordid tale of Judge Mark Fuller, a federal jurist facing allegations of domestic violence brought by his wife, Kelli Fuller. The good judge is also accused of having an affair with one of his law clerks. Today, we’ve got some additional details about Judge Fuller’s history as an alleged lawyerly Lothario, as well as some updates in the case against him, including the transcript of the 911 call made by his wife during the course of the alleged assault. Judge Fuller’s marriage to his ex-wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, was allegedly rife with troubles, ranging from adultery to abuse to addiction. His alleged affair with his then-deputy may have contributed to his divorce from his former wife; check out the Request for Admissions that was filed during the course of the divorce, posted on the next page. (Judge Fuller requested that the records be sealed shortly after the shocking document was made public.)
WSFA-TV, Federal Judge Mark Fuller's caseload reassigned in wake of arrest, Posted: Aug 10, 2014, updated Aug 13, 2014. All cases that were pending before Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who presides over legal matters in Alabama's Middle District, are being reassigned to other judges, effective immediately.
Associated Press via Al.com, 'He's beating on me,' wife of judge who presided over Siegelman, Scrushy trials says in 911 call, Staff report, Aug. 13, 2014. The wife of a federal judge arrested earlier this week on suspicion of hitting her told emergency dispatchers that she was being beaten and needed an ambulance. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, meanwhile, has been stripped of his case load in the Middle District of Alabama as he stands charged with misdemeanor domestic battery in a Georgia court. In a recording of a 911 call obtained by The Associated Press, the woman who dialed authorities identified herself as Kelli Fuller and reported that she was involved in a domestic dispute at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta. "He's beating on me. Please help me," the woman tells the 911 dispatcher before saying that she needed paramedics. The recording was released to AP on Wednesday in response to an open records request.
OpEd News, Will President Obama Maintain Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence in the Case of Federal Judge Mark Fuller? Dana Jill Simpson, Aug. 13 2014. This October President Obama and Vice President Biden will be faced with a challenge to the seriousness of their commitment to zero tolerance for domestic violence. They are now confronted by a sitting federal judge in Alabama named Mark Fuller who has been arrested for battery against his wife in the "ritzy" Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta Georgia. Fuller has been quoted in the press on the day of his release stating that he "just pushed" his wife (Kelli Gregg Fuller) to the ground and was defending himself from an attack by her, triggered by her concerns over his possible infidelity.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Federal judge arrested in Atlanta; accused of assaulting wife, Chris Joyner, Aug. 10, 2014. Atlanta police arrested a federal judge Saturday evening on charges that he assaulted his wife. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller was charged with misdemeanor battery and taken to the Fulton County jail around 2:30 Sunday morning. Fuller, 55, is a judge in the Middle District of Alabama and presided over the 2006 bribery trial of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. According to Atlanta police spokeswoman Kim Jones, officers spoke to Fuller’s wife, “who stated she was assaulted by her husband.” Fuller’s wife, who was not named by police, was treated by paramedics but refused treatment at a hospital.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Domestic violence arrest unlikely to remove federal judge from bench, Rhonda Cook, Aug. 12, 2014. Federal Judge Mark Fuller is unlikely to face any professional repercussion s because of his misdemeanor battery charge brought over the weekend after he was accused of a physical altercation with his wife at a downtown Atlanta hotel. With a lifetime appointment to the federal court, the only way to remove a judge from the bench is via the long and complicated impeachment process and then a trial in the U.S. Senate, according to experts. Federal judges accused of felonies have not been immediately removed though some have resigned. Fuller is charged with a misdemeanor.
Montgomery Advertiser, Federal judge Mark Fuller released from Atlanta jail, Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser, Aug. 11, 2014. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller on Monday was released from an Atlanta jail after posting a $5,000 bond.
Associated Press via WSBT-V (ABC News Birmingham), Federal judge who presided over Siegelman, Scrushy trial in jail, Aug. 10, 2014. Federal Judge Mark Fuller was arrested at an Atlanta hotel Saturday night and taken to the Fulton County jail. He's accused of assaulting his wife. Atlanta police say Fuller's wife called from the Ritz Carlton on Peachtree Street around 10:47 p.m.. She told police she was assaulted by her husband. Officers reported injuries to her. She was treated on scene and refused to go to the hospital. Police say Fuller was not injured.
Legal Schnauzer, Alabama Federal Judge Who Was Charged With Assaulting Wife Has Faced Charges Of Domestic Abuse In The Past, Roger Shuler, Aug. 11, 2014. Quite a few Americans probably were shocked to learn that a federal judge from Alabama was arrested over the weekend on charges of assaulting his wife in an Atlanta hotel room. But to those who have closely followed the career of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama), the charges are not a surprise. During a 2012 divorce from his first wife, Fuller faced allegations of domestic abuse, extramarital affairs, driving under the influence, abuse of prescription medications, and more. Why is that not well known among the public? Here is the likely reason: Lisa Boyd Fuller filed for divorce on May 10, 2012, and her complaint and interrogatories quickly found their way into the Alabama press. The complaint was fairly mild, but the interrogatories raised all sorts of unsavory issues about the judge. Mark Fuller's lawyer then requested that the file be sealed, and an Alabama state judge granted the request, even though divorce records generally are considered public records.
OpEdNews, Alabama Judicial Scandal Could Taint Many Cases, Not Just Siegelman's, Andrew Kreig, May 17, 2012. An Alabama newspaper exposed a scandal May 16 that deserves national prominence that will not occur without you as participants in the alternative and social media. The headline was "Federal judge's lengthy affair with court worker is exposed." This is a scandal not simply for the judge, Mark Everett Fuller. It is a lifetime shame for those in the Justice Department, federal court system and the United States Senate who have coddled and protected him for an entire decade during his obvious previous disgraces. A decade ago, Alabama's pension officials accused Fuller of trying to bilk the system out of $330,000 by his advocacy of unmerited pension benefits for a former staffer. Yet Alabama's two Republican senators, Richard Shelby (shown at right) and Jeff Sessions, pushed Fuller forward for a lifetime appointment, which Fuller received from voice vote by the United States Senate with no serious discussion of his past. Fuller and his court staff were able to hide from public view a 180-page impeachment filing against him in 2003 with no apparent attempt at investigation. In 2006, he presided over one of the nation's most sinister political prosecutions in modern times. The defense did not know that the judge was also being enriched via a military contracting company, Doss Aviation, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid Bush contracts.
Legal Schnauzer, Sex, Drugs, and Violence Are At The Heart Of Divorce Case Against Siegelman Judge Mark Fuller, Roger Shuler, May 18, 2012. A request for admissions can be one of the most entertaining documents in a lawsuit. Lisa Boyd Fuller is suing the judge for divorce. If even half of the items in her request for admissions are true, it's a wonder Judge Fuller could even pay attention during the Siegelman case -- much less rule correctly on key matters of law, with the freedom of two men at stake. Lisa Fuller's request is filled with sex, drugs, and violence — but no rock and roll (so far). The 18 items hint at a judge with a clouded mind, a nasty temperament, a lust for women other than his wife, and a monumental sense of entitlement.