Barry Ragsdale says audible smacks likely 'attempt by Kelli Fuller to imitate sounds of slapping'; Says she was 'drunk', 'hysterical'...
By Brad Friedman on 3/30/2015, 6:02am PT  

[This article now cross-published by Salon...]

The Birmingham attorney for U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller says that, despite 911 audio which seems to suggest otherwise, his client "never hit, punched, slapped or kicked" his wife Kelli in an Atlanta hotel room last year. The federal judge was simply defending himself from the "hysterical" rage of his wife who, the attorney now tells The BRAD BLOG, blatantly lied to police about the entire incident before his client was subsequently arrested on charges of domestic battery.

Moreover, Barry Ragsdale tells us, Kelli Fuller was "drunk" when she called 911. He says "slap" sounds heard clearly on the audio tape as she told the 911 dispatcher she was being beaten and needed an ambulance were either an attempt by Judge Fuller's wife to "imitate the sounds of slapping" or just "random background noises produced by someone who was intoxicated and hysterical."

In several emails sent to The BRAD BLOG in recent days, Ragsdale provided the most detailed public defense yet of his client, a lifetime appointee to the federal bench in Alabama's Middle District.

Ragsdale was responding to our queries after we exclusively published the complete 911 call from the domestic violence incident that occurred last August. The audio, obtained from the Atlanta Police Department, appears to contradict remarks given by Ragsdale to reporter Timothy M. Phelps of the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, in which the attorney claimed that, despite the arrest and a police report describing Kelli Fuller's "visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead" and other signs of abuse when officials arrived on the scene, it was actually Judge Fuller, not his second wife Kelli, who was the victim of a physical attack in their Ritz-Carlton hotel room in August of 2014...

Ragsdale: 'Altercation over before she ever called 911'

In the series of emails, Ragsdale offered his explanation for what he says actually happened that night. Much of his explanation, he says, is buttressed by confidential sworn testimony and evidence presented to the five-judge Special Committee panel tapped by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal to investigate the matter and provide recommendations on how that Circuit Court's Judicial Council should proceed. The Council may ultimately make no recommendations; issue a reprimand; ask Judge Fuller to resign or retire; or request that the U.S. House Judiciary Committee begin impeachment proceedings to remove the controversial Judge from the bench.

Unless Fuller voluntary leaves his lifetime, $200,000/year position on the federal bench, only an act of Congress can remove the 2002 George W. Bush-appointee from his job, even after his arrest last year and his subsequent plea deal in Georgia state court. That deal to avoid trial with a pretrial diversion will result in his criminal record being completely expunged following a court-approved drug and alcohol evaluation and successful completion of 24 once-a-week domestic abuse counseling sessions.

Earlier in March, Ragsdale reportedly told the LATimes' Phelps that Kelli Fuller, upset by what the attorney describes as an "imagined" affair she believed the Judge was having with his law clerk, attacked him while he was in bed watching television. He told Phelps that Kelli threw a glass at the Judge and then "rushes at him while he is lying in bed," before he then "reaches up, defending himself, and grabs her by the hair and the shoulder." Judge fuller then stood up, "throws her on the bed" and "she rolls off onto the floor and got a bloody lip," according to the account Ragsdale provided to the Times. "He never intended to hurt her."

But the complete 911 audio tape obtained by The BRAD BLOG from the Atlanta Police Department and published in full here two weeks ago, seemed to be at odds with Ragsdale's scenario as reported by the paper.

Here is the complete audio from Kelli Fuller's 911 call on August 9, 2014:

As we previously reported, the audio of Kelli Fuller's call makes clear that more than a full minute passes between the time she initially called 911 to report that she was involved "in a domestic dispute" with her husband, before the couple calmly, if intensely, exchange vows of hatred and then multiple smacking sounds are heard as Kelli pleads: "Please help me! He's beating on me!"

There is no audible evidence on the 911 tape to corroborate Ragsdale's account of an assault by Kelli Fuller against the Judge, where she accuses him of infidelity, throws a glass at him, and then "attacks" him while in bed.

Moreover, if the exchange Ragsdale described, where Kelli "rushed" the Judge, was the only physical confrontation between them, as he now claims, why did Kelli Fuller call 911 in the first place, well over a minute before the audio evidence of "slap" sounds are heard?

"The brief physical altercation between her and Judge Fuller was over before she ever called 911," Ragsdale explained via email. "It is not surprising, therefore, that the 911 audio does not record Kelli Fuller's assault on Judge Fuller, including the thrown glass or the attack on Judge Fuller while he was in bed watching television."

Ragsdale tells us that there was only a "single, discrete physical altercation between Judge Fuller and Kelli Fuller," which happened prior to her call to 911. He says Kelli's subsequent claims to the dispatcher about being beaten amount to alcohol-fueled lies.

Our previous description of the phone call and the timing of the apparent smacking sounds heard during it, Ragsdale charges, represent a "glaring misapprehension that Kelli Fuller was telling the truth when she claimed that Judge Fuller was 'beating on me' to the 911 dispatcher. The only thing that is clear from the 911 call is that Kelli Fuller was drunk when she made the call. Her slurred speech and inability to respond to the dispatcher's questions make that clear."

"Judge Fuller was not hitting her when she made her alcohol-infused claim on the 911 call," the attorney reiterated.

"You also assume that the 'slaps' that you think you hear on the 911 call are evidence that Judge Fuller was hitting Kelli Fuller while she was on the telephone with the dispatcher." he says. "The 'slap' sounds that you think you hear on the 911 tape were not caused by Judge Fuller hitting her."

When we asked for an explanation of what those "slap" sounds were, in that case, Ragsdale offered only his own speculation.

"I personally believe they were an attempt by Kelli Fuller to imitate the sounds of slapping, but they could also be random background noises produced by someone who was intoxicated and hysterical."

Secret evidence

Ragsdale offered a series of claims about evidence that he says was presented to the Special Committee investigating the incident --- some confidential, others a matter of otherwise unreleased public record --- but declined to share any of that evidence with The BRAD BLOG. A number of his assertions are supported, he says, by what he describes as Kelli's "sworn testimony" to the panel of judges, which, he suggests, was in contradiction to her previous statements to both the police and the 911 dispatcher.

Because we do not have access to much of that information, we are carefully attempting to avoid advancing specific claims he offered during our email conversations that were based only on his own characterization of confidential testimony or other evidence that cannot be independently substantiated at this time.

Nonetheless, Ragsdale claims that testimony and other evidence given to the 11th Circuit's Special Committee is "consistent with the explanation given by Judge Fuller regarding the events of that night and completely contradict the story told by Kelli Fuller."

It should also be noted here that victims of domestic violence frequently change or even recant their initial assertions about abuse "when the crisis has passed," as explained by Pat Kelliher of Brockton Family and Community Resources, according to Alabama's Enterprise News in 2011. "What we see often is that a victim may reach out to the criminal justice system in a time of crisis, but when the crisis has passed ... they think about so many different things. They think about worse retribution," said Kelliher, echoing other experts in the field who explain that victims are often pressured after the incident to change their testimony or by concerns that they won't be able to support their families if their partner is jailed.

In support of his assertions that Judge Fuller, not his wife, was the real victim of an "assault" in this incident, Ragsdale offered a series of questions that he believes should serve to cast doubt on the audio evidence heard in the 911 call.

"Why is Kelli Fuller absolutely silent during the alleged 'slaps' so that all you can hear are those sounds, but no crying, yelling or screaming while she is supposedly being beaten? Why does she only cry out for help after the 'slap' sounds are finished? It seems unlikely that someone who is supposedly being beaten would wait politely until the beating is completed before asking for help," he says, before offering still more assertions that attempt to undermine the narrative previously offered to both the 911 dispatcher and police arriving at the scene.

"Why, if Judge Fuller was punching and kicking her, did Kelli Fuller remain in the same hotel room with him to make a telephone call to 911? ... Does it make sense, if she were truly the victim of an on-going beating, that she would chose to stay in the same small room with her abuser while she called the police? ... Even after she completed the 911 call, why did she stay in the room with Judge Fuller, instead of escaping? ... Why did Kelli Fuller request an ambulance, but then refuse to go to a hospital?"

'Sensationalized and misleading stories'

Ragsdale also accused The BRAD BLOG of "publishing sensationalized and misleading stories about Judge Fuller," even as he mischaracterized a number of elements of our reporting.

For example, he reiterated claims he has made previously to the Montgomery Advertiser that reports of alleged substance and domestic abuse in Mark Fuller's first marriage --- which ended in 2012 after an alleged affair with this then-Court Bailiff, now-wife Kelli Gregg --- were little more than "nonsense" and "gossip".

"Judge Fuller never hit, beat or otherwise abused his first wife, Lisa Fuller. Continuing to report that unsupported gossip undermines your credibility," he told us in one of his missives.

But our reporting about allegations from Fuller's first marriage is based directly on court documents filed by Lisa Boyd Fuller during the 2012 divorce proceedings. Those files were published before being subsequently sealed by the court, despite Lisa Fuller "strenuously object[ing]", according to the documents published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at the time.

Official court documents obtained and published by Alabama investigative journalist Roger Shuler include a serious of interrogatories submitted by Judge Fuller's first wife which ask him to respond to her allegations suggesting he had "hit, kicked, struck, or otherwise physically abused" both Lisa and their children during the marriage; drove under the influence of alcohol with their kids in the car; was addicted to prescription medication; and had an "extramarital affair" and "sexual intercourse" with his court bailiff Kelli Gregg.

Those points are not "gossip" but information taken directly from the court filings and reported as such throughout our long series of coverage of this case (see much of that coverage indexed below), going back to the initial arrest report last year (and even earlier, as we've long covered Fuller's questionable oversight of the political trial against Alabama's former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, Fuller's most infamous case until this one).

Furthermore, while the police in Atlanta reported that the altercation last year began after Kelli Fuller accused the Judge of having an affair with his law clerk, and we have noted the similarities in that allegation to the charges of infidelity made by Fuller's first wife, we have not reported either the name of the clerk in question or that the alleged affair actually occurred.

Still, Ragsdale suggests that we did, even while he does not dispute our reporting on the allegations of Judge Fuller's affair with his court bailiff Kelli during his first marriage.

Ragsdale claims that "undisputed evidence at the [Special Committee] hearing established that Judge Fuller never had an affair or any other kind of inappropriate relationship with his law clerk (or anyone else) while he was married to Kelli Fuller. It was only Kelli's Fuller's imagination that produced that unfounded allegation. It is unfair to the law clerk for you and others to report that false allegation as if it were true."

Once again, we have not reported the allegation of an affair during his marriage to Kelli to be either true or false, despite Ragsdale's misleading characterization of our coverage.

"It is not my job (or even my desire) to try to convince you that I am right," he says. "We have made our case to the Special Committee and presented them with the evidence to support it. You and the other members of the public can either wait for their findings or you can go ahead and draw your own conclusions without the benefit of all of the evidence."

"I hope that this response clears up your confusion about what you perceive as discrepancies between the story in the LA Times and your own understanding of the facts," Ragsdale noted in closing.

Every member of Alabama's Congressional delegation, including both of their Republican U.S. Senators who initially endorsed Fuller's appointment to the bench, have called on the U.S. District Judge to resign. He has, so far, flatly refused, even as his cases have been reassigned to others during the court's investigation. In the meantime, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, in response to demands for impeachment hearings made by Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democratic member of Alabama's U.S. Congressional contingent, has requested an increase to its budget in order to cover additional costs that may be incurred in the event of such a rare proceeding. The House Judiciary Committee will make their determination about whether or not to proceed with impeachment proceedings after either the 11th Circuit Court's Judicial Council, or the U.S. Judicial Conference, to whom the 11th Circuit will report, issue their final recommendations on the matter. Those recommendations are expected to be made within the next several weeks.

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UPDATE 4/20/2015: A number of updates in the Fuller saga now posted here...

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Earlier 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"
9/15/2014: "Republican Senior Federal Judge, Domestic Abuse Experts Call for Accountability for Wife-Beating U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller"
9/15/2014: "Wife-Beating Federal Judge Mark Fuller Finally Mentioned on MSNBC [VIDEO]"
9/17/2014:"Chris Hayes Plays Horrifying 911 Call From Federal Judge Mark Fuller's Wife; Sounds of Her Apparently Being Struck Can Be Clearly Heard"
9/19/2014:"'A Matter of Time': U.S. Senators, Representatives Finally Call for Some Accountability for Wife-Beating Federal Judge Mark Fuller"
9/23/2014:"Washington Post Finally Calls for Investigation, Impeachment of Wife-Beating Federal Judge"
10/17/2014:"Attorney For Judge Mark Fuller Says Wife Beating Incident No Big Deal; Chilling 911 AUDIO and Former AL Gov. Siegelman Suggest Otherwise"
10/20/2014:"Congresswoman Declares Impeachment Deadline for Wife-Beating Federal Judge; Court Unseals Divorce Docs From Fuller's Previous Marriage"
12/3/2014:"U.S. House Judiciary Committee Cites Potential Impeachment of Wife-Beating Federal Judge"
2/16/2015: "U.S. House Judiciary Committee Increases Budget For Possible Impeachment of Judge Mark Fuller"
3/16/2015: "Exclusive: Complete 911 Audio At Odds With New 'Self-Defense' Claim by U.S. Judge Mark Fuller's Attorney in 2014 Domestic Battery Incident"