Letter to 11th Circuit from Goodlatte (R) and Conyers (D) seeks update on special probe into battery arrest of Judge Mark Fuller...
By Brad Friedman on 12/3/2014, 6:05am PT  

The bi-partisan leadership of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, seeking an update on their investigation into the August domestic battery charges and prosecution against Alabama federal Judge Mark Fuller.

Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) sent the letter on Monday to the circuit's Chief Judge Ed Carnes and to Judge Gerald Tjoflat who is heading the Special Committee convened by the 11th Circuit to investigate the wife-beating incident by the George W. Bush-appointed federal jurist.

The letter from the House Judiciary Committee raises the possibility of impeachment of Fuller. The missive follows a vow by Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell (D) to seek articles of impeachment against Fuller in the U.S. House, as well as calls by the rest of the state's Congressional contingent who have stated that the U.S. District Court Judge should resign his lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Fuller was arrested on the night of August 9th, after his wife made a disturbing 911 call from an Atlanta hotel room requesting an ambulance, while telling the operator that the judge was "beating on her". (The audio of the call, in which she is heard being struck, is posted at the end of this article.) Police found Fuller's wife Kelli bloodied and bruised along with other signs of violence in their Ritz-Carlton hotel room. He has been allowed by the state court to enter a pretrial diversion program and will have all charges dismissed, as if the incident never happened, once he successfully completes a program of once-a-week visits with a domestic abuse counselor.

Whether or not charges against Fuller are dropped by the state judge, the U.S. Congress may impeach and remove him from his $200,000/year lifetime appointment.

The letter (posted in full below) says "The allegations against Judge Fuller raise serious, substantial and troubling questions that have been the focus of constant attention and close monitoring by the Committee on the Judiciary since August 2014 when reports first appeared of his arrest for a violation of state criminal law"...

Indeed, a spokesperson from Conyers office told The BRAD BLOG shortly after the issue first came to light that they would be waiting for recommendations from the Judicial Conference --- essentially, the administrative arm of the federal U.S. court system --- based on the 11th Circuit's investigation into the matter.

The 11th Circuit's investigation may wrap up by years end, and may either take no action, suggest to Fuller that he resign, and/or recommend that Congress file articles of impeachment. Only Congress has the ability to remove Fuller if he fails to leave voluntarily, which his Birmingham attorney, Barry Ragsdale, has made clear from the jump he has no intention of doing.

Ragsdale has downplayed the August domestic violence arrest, asserting that there was "not a beating, kicking or slapping" incident involved, though police and physical evidence suggest otherwise (as does the 911 call posted below). Moreover, he has described allegations filed during Fuller's 2012 divorce case from his first wife Lisa --- in which she suggested he physically abused both her and their children --- as "nonsense" and "gossip".

The attorney is now offering the best spin possible in response to the House Judiciary Committee's Monday letter. "I was greatly impressed Congress put this much thought into it and it frankly makes sense that before they do anything, they check with the 11th Circuit," Ragsdale is quoted as telling the Montgomery Advertiser. He went on to add: "I still think it's absurd in this case to talk about impeachment."

"Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution provides the House of Representatives with the 'sole Power of Impeachment.' That power is initiated by and overseen by the Committee on the Judiciary," the two senior Congressmen wrote in their letter to the 11th Circuit Court judges.

"The public has a strong and abiding interest in the proper resolution of credible allegations of misconduct involving a federal judge as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with principles of due process. In furtherance of these interests, the Congress has prescribed statutory procedures that anticipate the initial investigation by the judiciary of credible allegations of serious judicial misconduct. These statutes supplement but do not supplant congressional autonomy and authority."

In other words, Congress may take action on Fuller's impeachment no matter what the Special Committee convened by the 11th Circuit decides to recommend after they complete their investigation.

In October, Democratic Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell vowed to ask for articles of impeachment if Fuller hadn't resigned by the time Congress returned from their election recess in mid-November. Once reconvened, Sewell wrote a letter to the House Judiciary asking them to begin its an investigation, stating that "The integrity of the federal court has already been severely compromised and irreparably broken by such indefensible acts of domestic violence."

The rest of Alabama's Congressional contingent, all Republicans --- including both of their Senators who had originally recommended Fuller when he was nominated by Bush in 2002 --- have called for Fuller to resign.

Until he was arrested for beating his wife, Fuller was best known for presiding over the political prosecution against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) who is current serving time in federal prison for something that 113 bi-partisan former state Attorneys General agree had never been a crime before the popular Democratic Governor was charged with it. Despite a number of conflicts of interest, including a long-held grudge against Siegelman, Fuller refused to recuse himself from the case.

Following Fuller's arrest, a new judge was assigned to Siegelman's case. He is currently appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial based in part on Fuller's undisclosed conflicts of interest.

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A portion of Kelli Fuller's August 911 call to Atlanta police is below, followed by the 12/1/2014 letter from U.S. House Judiciary Committee Reps. Goodlatte and Conyers seeking an update from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal on the investigation into Judge Mark Fuller's arrest for allegedly beating his wife...

Dec. 1, 2014

The Honorable Ed Carnes
Chief Judge
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit
56 Forsyth Street, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30303

The Honorable Gerald Tjoflat
U.S. Circuit Judge
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit
56 Forsyth Street, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30303

Dear Chief Judge Carnes and Judge Tjoflat:

We write regarding the arrest and ongoing prosecution of Middle District of Alabama Judge Mark E. Fuller in Atlanta, Georgia, which is pending before the State Court of Fulton County, Georgia. The allegations against Judge Fuller raise serious, substantial and troubling questions that have been the focus of constant attention and close monitoring by the Committee on the Judiciary since August 2014 when reports first appeared of his arrest for a violation of state criminal law.

In writing, we note the following undisputed facts:

• Judge Fuller has reportedly entered into a pretrial diversion program that requires him to, inter alia, successfully complete domestic violence counseling;

• James P. Gerstenlauer, the Circuit Executive of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, published an announcement on August 12, 2014 that stated "all legal matters" then assigned to Judge Fuller, would be reassigned to other judges;

• The Acting Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit subsequently appointed a Special Committee to investigate Judge Fuller's actions in connection with the filing of state misdemeanor battery charges in August 2014;

• The Special Committee's statutory authority and obligations derive from section 353 of title 28, United States Code, which includes a requirement that the Special Committee, "expeditiously file a comprehensive written report ... with the judicial council of the circuit" after completion of "an investigation as extensive as it considers necessary;" and

• Judge Gerald Tjoflat has reportedly been appointed Acting Chief Judge for purposes of coordinating the Special Committee's investigation and providing recommendations to the judicial council of the circuit in this matter.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution provides the House of Representatives with the "sole Power of Impeachment." That power is initiated by and overseen by the Committee on the Judiciary. The public has a strong and abiding interest in the proper resolution of credible allegations of misconduct involving a federal judge as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with principles of due process. In furtherance of these interests, the Congress has prescribed statutory procedures that anticipate the initial investigation by the judiciary of credible allegations of serious judicial misconduct. These statutes supplement but do not supplant congressional autonomy and authority.

In recognition of the explicit statutory requirement that a Special Committee, once appointed, "expeditiously file a comprehensive written report" after the completion of its "investigation," we write to request that you provide us with an update on the status of the ongoing investigation and the anticipated timeline for completion of the required comprehensive written report to the circuit's judicial council.

Bob Goodlatte
Chairman

John Conyers
Ranking Member

Cc: Mr. Barry Ragsdale

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UPDATE 2/16/2015: House Judiciary Committee requests increased budget to cover cost of potential impeachment of Fuller. Full details now here...

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Recently related previous 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"