Outrage slowly growing after plea deal to avoid prosecution, retention of lifetime appointment to federal bench...
By Brad Friedman on 9/15/2014, 6:05am PT  

Last week, we wrote about the disturbing similarities (and differences) in the wife-beating cases of the NFL's Ray Rice, who knocked out his then-fiancée/now-wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator in mid-February, and that of Alabama's U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller, who beat his wife bloody in an Atlantic City hotel room in early August.

Despite the allegations in the now-sealed 2012 divorce documents from his first wife, suggesting that he also beat her up (as well as their kids), Fuller, like Rice, is being treated as a first time offender by the court system, and being allowed to enter a pre-trial diversion program to avoid prosecution entirely. Both will avoid prosecution and have their arrest records completely expunged, as if the beatings never happened, upon completion of domestic abuse counseling. Rice has agreed to attend sessions for a year; Fuller has agreed to once-weekly domestic abuse counseling for just 24 weeks.

Rice eventually lost his job after video of his assault was published. Fuller, unless he's impeached by the U.S. Congress or chooses to resign, will keep his $200,000/year lifetime on the U.S. District Court in Alabama's Middle District. He has indicated he intends to continue his job sitting in judgment of others, stating, after the court agreed to the plea deal early this month, that he "look[s] forward to...returning to full, active status" on the federal bench.

We detailed some of the very few calls from media for Fuller to step down or be impeached, as well as the (so far) tepid reaction from elected officials --- the very same ones who have made their "outrage" known about the Rice case --- who are largely ignoring the Fuller case, even though the violence in his case was arguably much worse. According to the Atlanta Police, he struck and kicked his wife repeatedly, dragged around the hotel room by her hair, leaving bruises and blood on her face and legs, and in the hotel bathroom. According to the reported details of the desperate 911 call from his wife, asking for an ambulance, she is heard being struck and repeatedly crying: "Help me, please. Please help me. He's beating on me."

But the outrage about the wrist-slap treatment of a wife-beating federal judge seems to be growing --- very slowly, but growing --- including a scathing denunciation of Fuller by a fellow Republican federal jurist, this one a senior judge from the District of Nevada, who decries the plea deal allowed to Fuller and writes, "Given what happened in that hotel room, no one should trust his judgment in a federal trial courtroom"...

In his blog item, now-retired Senior Judge Richard George Kopf writes, "Judge Fuller got a sweet deal when prosecutors allowed him to enter some type of diversion program 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."

Kopf, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, argues that impeachment by the U.S. Congress would be too difficult to achieve. So, he says, Circuit Court officials should take whatever action is necessary to keep Fuller, a George W. Bush appointee, from ever overseeing another case:

Instead, the Chief Judge of the Circuit and the Circuit Judicial Council should strip him of his ability to hear cases for as long as the law allows. See 28 U.S. Code § 354(a)(2)(A)(i) ("ordering that, on a temporary basis for a time certain, no further cases be assigned to the judge whose conduct is the subject of a complaint"). They should also publicly reprimand him and formally request that he resign. Id.§ 354(a)(2)(A)(ii-iii) & § 354(a)(2)(B)(ii). Pay him forever as an inducement to resign --- the statute gives them that leverage. I don't care. That's chump change. Just neuter him for as long as possible. Approach this process practically and quickly. But be tough.

I don't care about punishing Judge Fuller. I don't want to hurt his family. I just want him off the bench for as long as possible. Why? It is very simple. Given what happened in that hotel room, no one should trust his judgment in a federal trial courtroom. That courtroom is a hallowed place where trust in the one person wearing a black robe is absolutely indispensable.

Another Alabama paper has called for Fuller's impeachment. Over the weekend, the Dothan Eagle's editorial board asked "If there were video footage of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room, would he still get the kid-glove treatment he received in court last week?":

Domestic violence is a despicable crime and should be treated with serious consequences - especially when committed by some who should be held to a higher standard.

Ray Rice has been barred from the gridiron. Mark Fuller should be barred from the courtroom, as the threshold for character and good judgment should be far higher than that of the NFL. ... Removing him from the bench is a job for Congress, which must impeach him. There should be no question about it.

We call on our lawmakers to initiate these proceedings at the first opportunity to maintain the integrity of the U.S. Judicial District of Alabama.

Alabama's Mongtomery Advertiser has, for at least the third time now, called again for Fuller's "resignation or impeachment" in light of his "indefensible conduct" and "lack of fitness for the bench."

Fuller's violence would be reprehensible no matter what his occupation, but as a judge, he has also done damage to the judiciary and to public confidence in it, damage he can never repair if he remains on the bench. In the public perception, he will always be the wife-beating judge, the well-connected jurist who got away with frightful abuse and still wears the robe.
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[U]nlike some youthful offender getting a chance to atone for a mistake without being saddled with a permanent criminal record, Fuller would be sitting in judgment of others appearing before him in federal court. He can't do that with any credibility, and he must know that, whether he will admit it or not. He would tarnish the judiciary by returning to the bench. If he has any respect for the high office he was privileged to hold, he surely understands that.
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[I]f he will not voluntarily resign, the public interest demands that impeachment proceedings be instituted. We call on the state's congressional delegation to lead that effort if it proves necessary.

Over at Washington Post, where Congerssional lawmakers may actually notice the matter, Diana Reese picks up the comparison between Rice and Fuller, cites an expert (and former victim) in the matter of domestic abuse, and decries the fact that Fuller is currently on a path "to return to the bench. For life.":

"It's a slap in the face to victims and survivors of domestic violence," said Ruth Glenn, interim director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and herself a survivor of domestic violence. "It's sending a horrible message."
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It feels like Fuller has failed to accept any responsibility for what happened in that Atlanta hotel room. Nor has he apologized publicly. Although his statement, released through his attorneys, does express regret, he regrets that his decision to take the plea deal "means that the full and complete facts regarding this incident will likely not come out."
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But he's accepting the deal for "the best interests" of his family, and he goes on to say how "very embarrassing" the incident has been.

Fuller's divorce records from 2012 included accusations of abuse, infidelity and drug use.

Tim Mak at The Daily Beast noticed the story, and the ironic comparison to the Rice case as well:

The Ray Rice case shows that the NFL's domestic abuse policy is bad. But the federal judicial system's is even worse.

Although U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller is accused of a more prolonged and arguably more brutal assault on his wife than Rice, he will likely keep his job. With the protection of lifetime tenure on the bench and a helpful plea deal, Fuller appears set to skate away professionally unscathed.
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"The beating he administrated to his wife is far more extensive than the one Ray Rice administered to his fiancée," Donald Watkins, an Alabama attorney who is trying to get Fuller expelled from the bench, told The Daily Beast. "I've seen that the privilege and power of being a federal judge gives you impunity to beat your wife." Watkins recently wrote to the Supreme Court urging Chief Justice John Roberts to take action against Fuller.

But where Judge Kopf had argued that the Chief Judge of the Circuit should take action to keep Fuller off the bench, it looks like that Chief Judge has little interest in doing so. Mak notes, "The acting chief judge of the 11th Circuit has already alluded to Fuller's return to the bench, telling Law360 that 'Fuller recognizes that he needs to deal with these serious issues quickly so when he returns there is as little disruption to his cases as possible.'"

That's right, "when he returns."

Had there been video in that hotel room, we suspect articles of impeachment would have already been introduced by now in the U.S. House. Without video though? It's almost as if it never happened. If the plea deal Fuller was allowed to take is completed, and if no real accountability is otherwise doled out to the apparently multiple wife-beating judge, then, indeed, it will be exactly as if it never happened...at least until the dishonorable judge goes on to assault his next victim.

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UPDATE 7:28pm PT: The Mark Fuller case --- and questions about the lack of outrage (and impeachment) --- finally mentioned on MSNBC, on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton today. Watch here...

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UPDATE 9/17/2014: MSNBC's Chris Hayes plays portion of 911 call from Fuller's wife, in which she is heard being repeatedly struck. Full story now here...

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Recently related stories at The BRAD BLOG:

8/11/2014: "Federal Judge in Don Siegelman Case Arrested, Charged with Abusing Wife in Atlanta Hotel"
8/25/2014: "Federal Judge Who Was Arrested for Beating His Wife (and Who Sentenced Don Siegelman) Is Now Hoping to Avoid Prosecution Altogether"
9/5/2014: "BREAKING: Federal Judge Who Presided Over Siegelman Case and Who Recently Beat His Own Wife Bloody Strikes Deal to Avoid Prosecution"
9/10/2014: "NFL's Ray Rice Loses Job for Knocking Out Wife, Federal Judge Mark Fuller Keeps Lifetime Appointment After Beating Wife Bloody"