In case you thought the clamor, such that it is, for accountability for U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller has waned, it hasn't. At least according to some behind-the-scenes, bi-partisan budgeting measures in the GOP-controlled U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which is now quietly preparing for the possibility of impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush's 2002 lifetime-appointee to the Alabama federal bench.
Fuller was arrested last August on charges related to physically abusing his wife in an Atlanta hotel room after she called 911 asking for help and an ambulance as the dispatcher heard what sounded like the Judge beating her. Here's a portion of Kelli Fuller's chilling phone call...
As Ken Hare of Montgomery's NBC affiliate WSFA summarized last week, when police responded to the 911 call at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Fuller's wife had "visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead," according to the police report. She told police the Judge "threw her to the ground and kicked her" in response to confronting him about an alleged affair with his court clerk. (Her own affair with Judge Fuller, ironically, began during his previous marriage, while she served as his court bailiff.) The police report says Kelli Fuller "stated she was dragged around the room and Mr. Fuller hit her in the mouth several times with his hands."
Despite the startling claims, supported by both evidence found by police in the hotel room, the audio of the 911 call excerpted above and eerily similar assertions made in court documents by Fuller's previous wife during their 2012 divorce, the state court in Atlanta allowed Fuller to enter a minimal pretrial diversion program which, once successfully completed, will completely expunge his criminal record --- as if his arrest on domestic battery charges never even happened.
While Fuller may get off the hook for criminal charges, his $200,000/year lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary is another matter. Unless he resigns or retires, the only way that a federal judge can be forced off the federal bench is through an act of Congress. And it is that act, the rare impeachment of a sitting federal judge, which the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has now budgeted for in its new session...
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this week that the committee may need the extra money to establish an impeachment task force, hire lawyers and conduct an investigation.
Although impeaching Fuller is only a possibility --- his colleagues on the federal bench could decide not to recommend that option, or Fuller could resign --- the budget request signals Congress is taking steps to prepare for what historically has been a rare but lengthy process.
"We are closely monitoring the recent arrest and ongoing prosecution" of Fuller, Goodlatte told the House Administration Committee on Wednesday.
Joining Goodlatte in presenting the budget request was the panel's top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.
Goodlatte's two-year budget request included a 9% increase over the previous session. "Most of the requested increase is due to the potential impeachment," the Advertiser reports.
While Fuller completes 24 weeks of once-a-week domestic violence counseling sessions and a court-ordered substance-abuse evaluation, as per his pretrial diversion program in state court, the incident is being investigated by a 5-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court's Judiciary Council. At the end of their investigation, they may take no action; request that Fuller resign or retire (in which case he'd continue receiving his pension); or recommend he be impeached. If the U.S. Judiciary Conference agrees with the Council's findings, they may pass on the recommendation for impeachment to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, where any such proceedings must officially begin.
Late last year, Goodlatte and Conyers had sought an update on the investigation from the 11th Circuit's Judiciary Council, hinting that impeachment may be in the offing by citing the U.S. Constitution's provision vesting the "sole Power of Impeachment" in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"That power is initiated by and overseen by the Committee on the Judiciary," the Committee's Chairman and Ranking Member wrote in their December letter to the 11th Circuit's Chief Judge Ed Carnes and U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat, who has been tapped to oversee the Circuit's internal probe. "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," they wrote.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, the only Democrat from Alabama's U.S. Congressional delegation, has been forcefully calling for impeachment proceedings since last year. The rest of the state's delegation, including its two Republican U.S. Senators who originally recommended Fuller's appointment back in 2002, have instead called on Fuller to resign.
According to a statement released last week by Sewell, she "welcomed news that the House Judiciary Committee is one step closer to holding judicial impeachment proceedings."
"I am pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has requested additional funding in anticipation of potential judicial impeachment proceedings," she said. "I hoped that Judge Fuller would have spared himself, his family, and our nation the expense of this lengthy process by immediately resigning but he has resisted my repeated calls to step down."
She vowed to "continue to work with...colleagues to uphold the integrity of the Court and to initiate impeachment proceedings."
Fuller, who has had his case load temporarily reassigned during the investigation, has, to date, vehemently refused the calls to resign. His attorney has consistently downplayed the charges against him, claiming that despite the evidence from the 911 call and the bloody condition in which police say they found Kelli Fuller last August at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, "there was not a beating, kicking or slapping in this instance." The attorney, Montgomery, AL's Barry Ragsdale, has also described allegations of the judge's substance abuse and physical abuse of his wife and children contained in court documents during Fuller's 2012 divorce from his first wife, as little more than "nonsense" and "gossip".
Prior to his arrest for domestic violence, Judge Fuller, a former chair of the Alabama state GOP, was best known for presiding over the federal trial of a political opponent, Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL), on charges now described by 113 bi-partisan former state Attorneys General as something that had never been a crime until the popular Democratic governor was indicted for it. Siegelman continues to seek a new trial while serving out his 6.5 year sentence in a Louisiana federal prison, even as Fuller continues to avoid both the media spotlight and any time at all in prison. Fuller was finally removed from the Siegelman case following the arrest last year in Atlanta.
UPDATE 3/16/2015: Fuller's lawyer claims he was only "defending himself" against his wife during the domestic violence incident. We release the complete 911 audio which appears to be at odds with this new claim. Full details and complete 911 audio now here...
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"
• 12/3/2014:"U.S. House Judiciary Committee Cites Potential Impeachment of Wife-Beating Federal Judge"