Courts Strip Disgraced Judge Of Cases, Forbid Contact With Wife

A federal appeals court in Atlanta took the rare step last week of reassigning all cases from a prominent judge who had been arrested on a charge of battery against his wife.

Separately, a Fulton County court forbade U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller, 55, from contact with his wife Kelli Gregg Fuller, 41, a former deputy court clerk for Fuller who phoned police late Aug. 9 from a luxury hotel to say her husband was beating her after she accused him of having an affair with a law clerk.

Mark Fuller Fulton County Courthouse screen shotThe wife-beating and sex scandal allegations puncture the protective cocoon that the mainstream media and legal establishment have provided for years for Fuller, chief judge of Alabama's middle district from 2004 to 2011. He is shown in a blue jail jumpsuit via county courthouse video during his hearing Aug. 11.

Activists are seeking to convene women's groups for his next hearing, originally scheduled Aug. 22 and now Sept. 5 at the Fulton County courthouse. Two Atlanta attorneys, Donald V. Watson and Joseph Cole, plan to organize protests against lenient treatment for Fuller, whom Watson described as undergoing rehabilitation treatment. 

We at the Justice Integrity Project and elsewhere have documented many allegations of abuses by Fuller that include financial and legal corruption. Also, we have reported his more personal vices involving claims made by his first wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, of wife-beating and sex scandal along with drug and alcohol abuse.

Longtime Alabama political writer Bob Martin, now editor of the Alabama's Montgomery Independent, is one of relatively few mainstream Alabama journalists to dig into these matters in recent years.

Based on Martin's long experience in the state capital region and recent developments, he republished Aug. 12 in the Independent (and its sister Millbrook Independent) our comprehensive Justice Integrity Project overview that day, Siegelman’s Judge Charged With Wife Beating

Then Dana Jill Simpson, an Alabama attorney and former political researcher for Republicans, published late on Aug. 16 here on Facebook a jeremiad against Fuller. She focused especially on the misdemeanor wife-beating allegation and other issues of character.

"Every lawyer around who knew of Judge Fuller had heard for years how he treated women and political foes," she wrote. "Those of you who know me know I have spent 25 years in the trenches working in the courts in rural Alabama to protect families as much as I could from domestic violence. And to have this guy just keep beating on women while sitting on the bench is intolerable -- not just for me but is an insult to all women in this state."

Dana Jill Simpson 60 MinutesSimpson had stepped forward in 2007 to swear that Fuller had helped frame former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy on corruption charges.

Simpson is shown in a screen shot from a 2008 CBS 60 Minutes report in which she and others made strong allegations also against the Bush administration federal prosecutors of Siegelman and Scrushy, as well as White House advisor Karl Rove.

But CBS failed to report her allegations against the trial judge, Fuller. Her allegations included sworn testimony that the judge "hated" Siegelman and documentation that a defense contractor the judge secretly controlled as its largest shareholder, Doss Aviation, had received without notice to litigants more than $70 million in no-bid federal contracts.

Soon thereafter the total was revealed to be $300 million, counting new awards received during the 2006 to 2009 time frame, as we reported for the Huffington Post in 2009.

Fuller has become enriched on the bench by those largely secret military contracts, which are almost never mentioned except in the independent, web-based media. As an exception, Martin broke the story in the Independent that Fuller pocketed $18 million in 2012 from the sale of Doss Aviation just before his divorce from his first wife.

The Justice Integrity Project, like other news outlets, has repeatedly requested substantive comment through the years from Fuller, who has presided in Alabama's middle district based in the state capital of Montgomery. The judge did email me once that he could not comment because he was a judge. Other requests from me and others have been ignored to the best of my knowledge.

Up to now, Fuller has enjoyed the deference from lawyers, journalists and academics normally accorded to federal judges.

The former state prosecutor and member of Alabama's Republican Party executive committee was a well-connected lawyer appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush. The U.S. Senate hearing on his nomination reveals no discussion of how he could have been a full-time state prosecutor for years in Alabama while also working as the CEO of the Colorado-based Doss, which trains Air Force pilots, refuels Air Force planes and sells uniforms to federal agencies and the military.

After donning robes on the bench, Fuller presided over one of the most controversial federal trials in recent history, the corruption prosecution of Siegelman, the state's leading Democrat.

After many pro-prosecution rulings widely regarded as dubious but upheld by higher courts, Fuller sentenced Siegelman and Scrushy to seven-year prison terms in 2007. The convictions almost entirely arose from Siegelman's reappointment of Scrushy in 1999 to a state board after Scrushy donated large sums to the Alabama Education Foundation, a non-profit Siegelman had co-founded to improve education opportunities via proceeds from a state lottery.

Scrushy finished his prison term. Siegelman is serving a term reduced to six years on appeal and interrupted by other unsuccessful appeals.

In October, Siegelman's attorneys will argue that his current convictions should be voided.

One reason, they say, is because Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary failed to recuse as she promised verbally. Her husband, businessman William Canary, was campaign manager for Siegelman's gubernatorial opponent. That was two-term GOP Gov. Bob Riley (2003-2011), who succeeded Siegelman following a close re-election vote in 2002. Also, Siegelman argues on appeal that Fuller wrongly increased Siegelman's prison time by including offenses for which he had been acquitted.

Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the Justice Department has always fought Siegelman's trial and appellate arguments despite many protests by legal scholars and members of the public that he was being prosecuted for political reasons, as defense attorneys and multiple whistleblowers claimed. 

Mark Fuller Mug ShotWith that background, this column focuses primarily on how allegations of sex and assault scandals have reduced the presumption of honesty that has protected Fuller from scrutiny so far. Fuller is shown in his mug shot taken at the Fulton County jail, where he was held from late Aug. 9 until his hearing Aug. 11.

His arrest in Atlanta, a major city out of his region of influence, also provided momentum for mainstream news coverage.

News appeared first in Atlanta, then via the Associated Press to Alabama, and now in national legal publications, such as a harsh account in Above the Law, which published, Clerkships, Crime, Federal Judges, Sex, Sex Scandals, Violence

No one has played a more central role in exposing Fuller than Simpson -- even though doing so has brought her many risks, threats and actual reprisals.

For one thing, Alabama bar rules forbid criticism of a judge. For another, her Republican targets, including former Bush White House and Alabama GOP political advisor Karl Rove, have harshly attacked her credibility -- albeit none have dared attack her under both under oath and subject to cross-examination.

During the seven years I have known her, she has repeatedly and unsuccessfully urged Congress, the Justice Department or any other body to determine the truth by putting everyone under oath, including her.

Also, she has described a number of suspicious activities, including a fire at her home and being driven into a ditch, both in early 2007 after she made her claims public.

Nonetheless, this weekend she published a Facebook column that harshly attacked Fuller as well as her alma mater, the University of Alabama Law School. She blamed the school for inviting Fuller to deliver a lecture on ethics when knowledgeable attorneys, she says, knew that he was highly vulnerable on the issues himself. She wrote:

I thought it was horrible not only because I knew the kind of man Fuller was as a result of the Siegelman case but because he chose to do it while Don Siegelman's boy was studying there. I heard from a Republican at the time that Fuller did it to hurt Joseph Siegelman, as he was a well-respected student at the law school. Well folks, it did not work. Josh bravely stood up for his dad! It is sad still today that the University of Alabama Law school allowed itself to be used as a political tool for the Republican Party to try to re-image as ethical Judge Fuller, the wife-beater. They can claim all they want they did not know but every lawyer around who knew of Judge Fuller had heard for years how he treated women and political foes.

Simpson is now a political independent who is pursuing advanced academic degrees that combine religion and other spiritualism with women's studies. With permission, we link below to her Facebook essay loosely entitled, Fuller the Wife-Beater, on why she has exposed Fuller and her reaction to the current charges.

Atlanta police arrested Fuller, shown in a jail mug shot, Aug. 9 on a misdemeanor charge of battery following a complaint from his wife of a beating after she accused him of an affair with a law clerk, as widely reported.

I conclude with several observations about the news coverage based on my own experience as a metro newspaper reporter covering federal courts full-time for five years, and later as an attorney and author. My recent book Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters  grew out of the Siegelman prosecution and the difficulty of conveying the gross miscarriage of justice in traditional news formats that defer heavily to judges, prosecutors and other authorities presumed to be acting in the public interest.

Here are three things I learned:

  • Few people have time for a complex story about financial corruption.

  • A survey of ethics professors and other experts -- a traditional format, as here -- has little value because they exist in ivory towers, far from the facts.

  • Well-meaning reporters and editors cling to other traditional formats, such as ginned-up concern that Fuller continues to receive his nearly $200,000 salary during his lifetime appointment. The salary is small change, however, compared to his $18 million payday from the sale of Doss, which taxpayers fund with vastly more dollars in a process shrouded with mysteries too sensitive to report.

There's one other lesson: Congress and the courts can bury scandals for years, but a cop on the beat arresting a VIP for wife-beating can send a message heard nationwide.


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Related News Coverage

Justice Integrity Project Columns

The Huffington Post front-paged several of our investigations in 2009, including:

Followups To Judge's Aug. 9 Arrest


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. The 11th Circuit already has stripped Fuller of his cases and stopped sending him new ones. Atlanta police arrested the 55-year-old judge on Aug. 10 and charged him with misdemeanor battery after his wife called 911 from a hotel and said he was beating her.

Jill and Jim SimpsonAlabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson posted a Facebook photo in March showing her with her husband, Jim Simpson, joining the annual civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, where they advocated for the release of former Gov. Don Siegelman. Her Facebook entry of Aug. 16 is excerpted below with permission and lightly edited.

Facebook, Fuller the Wife-Beater, Dana Jill Simpson, Aug. 16, 2014. I thought you all might enjoy Andy Kreig's new article in Alabama's Milbrook Independent, Siegelman’s Judge Charged With Wife Beating. Andy highlights all that I said about Mark Fuller's role in the Siegelman case years ago. He also mentions how I was furious at the University of Alabama Law School for allowing Fuller to speak on ethics several years back. I thought I would share before you read it exactly why I thought it was so horrible that the university brought Fuller to campus that year.

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 Associated Press was able to obtain audio from the 911 call made by his wife. Here’s a partial transcript from the call. About a minute into the call, as the initial dispatcher patches an ambulance dispatcher into the call, the woman identified as Kelli Fuller, 41, can be heard saying ‘I hate you, I hate you.” A male voice responds: “I hate you too” followed by dull noises in the background. This is absolutely disgusting behavior for a federal judge, if the allegations turn out to be true.

WSFA-TV, Federal Judge Mark Fuller's caseload reassigned in wake of arrest, Staff report, 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. The order to remove the judge's caseload was given by the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and comes in the wake of the judge's own legal troubles in which he was arrested over the weekend and charged with assaulting his wife. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals said no new legal matters will be assigned to the judge until further notice.

Legal Schnauzer, Could Judge Mark Fuller Face Impeachment For Making False Statements To Police In Assault Case? Roger Shuler, Aug. 18, 2014. Evidence made public so far strongly suggests that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (Middle District of Alabama) lied to police officers about his actions in an alleged domestic assault against his wife at an Atlanta hotel room. Now, a judicial-ethics expert says judges can be impeached if found guilty of making false statements.

Associated Press via WIAT-TV (Birmingham), Arrested federal judge keeps getting $200K salary, Staff reports, Aug. 15, 2014. An Alabama federal judge stripped of his caseload following his arrest on domestic violence charges in Atlanta will continue receiving his annual salary of nearly $200,000. Federal rules on judicial conduct and discipline don’t include a provision for withholding the pay of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, and the court system can’t quit paying a judge just because he was arrested, said judicial ethics expert Russell E. Carparelli. A circuit judicial council is looking into whether Fuller should be disciplined. “During this course he will continue to receive his salary,” said Carparelli, a former state court judge in Colorado and the executive director of the American Judicature Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. John Carroll, a former federal magistrate judge and dean of Cumberland Law School at Samford University, agreed. Each federal court circuit has a chief judge and a council composed of judges that consider disciplinary actions against federal judges, but judges continue receiving their pay as long as they retain their title, said Carroll. District judges like Fuller are paid $199,100 annually, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts in Washington. They are appointed for life. A woman who answered the telephone at Fuller’s office on Friday declined comment.

Legal Schnauzer, Could Federal Judge Face A Felony Charge Because Of Statements To Police About Assault On His Wife?  U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller saw his cases removed yesterday. But that might soon be the least of Fuller's worries in the wake of charges that he assaulted his wife in an Atlanta hotel room. Evidence made public so far strongly suggests that Fuller lied to law-enforcement officers who responded to a call about a disturbance at the Ritz Carlton on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Our research shows that making false statements to a police officer can be a felony in Georgia.

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.

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. The police report on the incident, first obtained by Decaturish, an Atlanta news site, said Fuller's wife showed evidence of lacerations to her mouth and forehead when the responding officer came. According to the report, the woman, who is not identified by name, confronted Fuller over issues in their marriage, including a belief that Fuller was having an affair with a law clerk.

HuffPost Live! Don Siegelman, former Gov of Alabama, went to prison for what 112 Attorneys General of both parties call a non-crime. Is Don Siegelman a political prisoner? Jacob Soboroff, Dec. 11, 2012 (34.51 min. video).

  •     Dana Siegelman @DonSiegelman (United States) Governor Don Siegelman's daughter & Founder,
  •     Mimi Kennedy @MimiKennedyLA (CA) Actress, HuffPost Blogger
  •     Congressman Parker Griffith (Huntsville, AL) Former Congressman (AL)
  •     Scott Horton (New York, NY) Columbia Law Professor and Contributing Editor, Harper's Magazine
  •     Grant Woods @GrantWoods (AZ) former Attorney General, Arizona and co-chair of McCain for President 2008