[This article now cross-published by Salon...]
In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, the attorney of Federal District Judge Mark F. Fuller (11th Circuit, Alabama, Middle District) says Fuller was simply "defending himself" against his wife when she called 911, said she was being beaten, requested an ambulance, and was then found bloodied by police in an Atlanta hotel room in August of 2014.
That claim would appear to be at odds with the available audio evidence from the 911 call, segments of which were aired on MSNBC last year, and since obtained in full by The BRAD BLOG via public records request from the Atlanta Police Department. We publish the audio, in full, below for the first time, as it appears to contradict new claims by Fuller's attorney.
The interview with the LATimes also appears to confirm that the special five-judge panel convened by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to investigate the disturbing incident and make recommendations for action to that Circuit Court's Judicial Council is investigating very similar claims of domestic violence and substance abuse made by Fuller's first wife Lisa during their 2012 divorce proceedings.
According to the paper's Timothy M. Phelps, Fuller's Birmingham attorney "and longtime friend" Barry Ragsdale explained during a lengthy recent interview that the incident last summer which led to the arrest of Fuller at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta began after Fuller's current wife Kelli accused the judge of having an affair with his law clerk. That claim is consistent with the initial police report, though Ragsdale --- who has also dismissed allegations of infidelity and abuse made by Fuller's first wife as little more than "nonsense" and "gossip" --- goes a bit farther in defense of the judge this time...
Complete Audio Tells a 'Fuller' Story
Phelps reports that Ragsdale describes Kelli Fuller's allegations about an affair as "imagined" and claims that Judge Fuller was doing little more than "defending himself" during the incident that resulted in his arrest, despite 911 audio which strongly suggests otherwise:
Ragsdale said Fuller acted in self-defense. He said when Fuller refused to fire the law clerk, his wife "throws a glass at him and rushes at him while he is lying in bed" in his underwear watching television.
"He reaches up, defending himself, and grabs her by the hair and the shoulder," Ragsdale said. "Standing up, he throws her on the bed. She rolls off onto the floor and got a bloody lip. He never intended to hurt her."
The police report at the time noted that when they arrived, the Judge was unscathed, but Kelli had "visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead."
"Mrs. Fuller stated when she confronted him about their issues, he pulled her hair and threw her to the ground and kicked her," said the police. She then claimed that "she was dragged around the room and Mr. Fuller hit her in the mouth several times with his hands." The report noted that her hair was found on the carpet around the room at the Ritz-Carlton, and blood was found in the bathroom.
Ragsdale's defense of his client, as reported by the Times, makes it sound as if there was a single incident, in which Mrs. Fuller lunged at Mr. Fuller, and he was simply forced to defend himself from the attack.
The 911 call, however, suggests a very different scenario, both in the clips originally aired on television, as well as in the full version of the call obtained by The BRAD BLOG.
Here's the edited portion of Kelli Fuller's 911 call, as heard on MSNBC last year...
In the complete audio of the phone call, there is more than a full minute between the time Kelli first calls 911 saying she "need[s] help", tearily reporting that she is in a "domestic dispute" and requesting an ambulance, before the sharp cracks of what sound like at least five smacks are heard during the recorded call. The 911 operator is then heard calling an ambulance dispatcher and telling her: "I can hear him hitting her now."
Lost from the originally-aired audio (as heard in the video above), are the calm, if intense, volleys of charges levied back and forth between Mr. and Mrs. Fuller.
"I hate you. I hate you," Kelli is heard saying.
"I hate you. I hate you, too," Judge Fuller responds, just seconds before the first smacks are heard, punctuating Kelli's subsequent pleas to the 911 operator: "Please help me! He's beating on me!"
The audio tape offers no indication whatsoever that Kelli "rushes at him while he is lying in a bed", while accusing him of an affair and forcing him to act only in self-defense. While that could have happened prior to the 911 call, once again, a full minute goes by after Kelli first makes contact with the 911 operator to report the "domestic dispute" before we then hear the intense exchange of vows of hatred and finally violence in the form of smacking sounds on the audio tape.
It is true, perhaps, that Kelli could have been beating Mark Fuller, rather than vice versa, though there is no public evidence supporting that scenario, while everything else currently available on the public record suggests precisely the opposite.
Despite the evidence heard on tape, in the LATimes, Ragsdale repeated his earlier assertions that Fuller "never hit, punched, slapped or kicked his wife" during the Ritz-Carlton incident.
To our knowledge, this is the first time the complete audio of Kelli Fuller's August 9, 2014 call to 911, as obtained by The BRAD BLOG from the Atlanta PD via public records request, has been published:
Previous Evidence of Violence and Abuse
In his report for the LA Times, Phelps says Ragsdale confirmed a number of allegations believed to be at the center of the 11th Circuit Court's special committee investigation, including allegations of domestic abuse filed by Fuller's former wife Lisa Boyd Fuller in 2012. The five-judge committee, made up of three Circuit Court judges and two U.S. District Court judges, met to hear "three days of testimony last month in a closed evidentiary hearing that Ragsdale said was 'essentially a trial.'," according to Phelps.
The results of that investigation, reportedly due later this month, are being considered by the 11th Circuit Judicial Council which may make choose to make no recommendation; offer a simple reprimand to Fuller; request that he resign or retire; or recommend that the U.S. Congress begin impeachment proceedings to remove him from the federal bench.
Unless Fuller, who has had his caseload reassigned in the interim, leaves voluntarily, he can only be removed from his lifetime, $200,000/year appointment by an act of Congress. He has previously refused to do so.
Alabama's full U.S. House delegation and both of its Republican U.S. Senators have called on Fuller to resign. The state's only Democratic Congressmember, Rep. Terri Sewell, has repeatedly asked the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment proceedings. Last month, as we reported, the Committee suggested it was preparing for possible impeachment by seeking an increase in its annual budget in order to cover the expected additional expenses for hearings, including funding for experts and attorneys as needed.
Last September, the Georgia state judge who oversaw the initial charges against Fuller after his arrest, allowed him to take a plea deal that would entirely expunge his criminal record after he completed a court-sanctioned drug and alcohol assessment and 24 once-a-week domestic abuse counseling sessions.
Fuller was offered leniency by the court on the premise that he was a first time offender and, as his attorney claimed at the time, he "doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem and never has."
Documents from his 2012 divorce proceedings with his first wife, however --- documents that were sealed by the court shortly after they were first surfaced publicly by independent Alabama journalist Roger Shuler --- indicate eerily similar circumstances in Fuller's first marriage as the ones that are alleged to have taken place in August of 2014.
Fuller and his first wife Lisa split up after an alleged affair between Fuller and his then court bailiff, Kelli Gregg, who would eventually marry Judge Fuller and become his next alleged victim.
The chilling 2012 documents filed by Lisa Fuller, ask the Judge to respond to allegations that he had "hit, kicked, struck, or otherwise physically abused" both her and their children; 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.
Fuller's attorney Ragsdale has previously described those documented allegations as "nonsense" and "gossip", even as he echoed them in the LA Times when he told the paper that Judge Fuller "never hit, punched, slapped or kicked" Kelli Fuller either.
Immediately after the 2012 documents were filed, the couple struck a settlement deal, and the documents were then sealed by the court against the "strenuous objections" of Lisa Fuller, according to reporting at the time published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Therefore, those documents were not available to the state judge at the time she allowed Fuller off with a slap-on-the-wrist pretrial diversion deal which, once completed, literally strikes all evidence of the charges from his criminal record --- as if it never happened.
Last September, conservative Senior Judge Richard George Kopf called for Fuller's resignation and penned a blistering blog item about the deal granted to Fuller by the court in Atlanta.
"Judge Fuller got a sweet deal," Kopf wrote, "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."
In the Times report over the weekend, Ragsdale says that the 11th Circuit Court's special committee supposedly examined the charges made by made by his former wife Lisa, as well as the new charges of domestic violence:
Ragsdale says there is no rule at the District Court in Montgomery prohibiting relationships with employees.
Finally, Ragsdale said, the judges are looking at questions of spousal abuse and alcohol and prescription drug abuse raised in Fuller's 2012 divorce from his first wife, Lisa.
Fuller's Trail of Controversy
Prior to this incident, Judge Mark Fuller, appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush in 2002 after serving as Chair of Alabama's Republican Party, was perhaps best known for his questionable handling of the political corruption trial and sentencing of former Democratic Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Siegelman, currently serving a 6.5 year sentence in federal prison, is appealing his conviction and seeking a new trial based on a number of issues, including claims backed by 113 bi-partisan former U.S. state Attorneys General that he was charged for something that had never been a crime before he was charged with it, and that Fuller's own long-time grudges against Siegelman, as well as personal conflicts of interest, should have required his recusal from the case.
Or, as the Times' Phelps briefly described it over the weekend: "The Alabama judge was criticized for sitting on cases brought by the government even as his aviation company was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded business. Appointed by a Republican, he was denounced for putting a former Democratic governor in manacles after a corruption conviction."
[See 60 Minutes' 2008 coverage of the Siegelman prosecution here.]
Siegelman is the only elected official in Alabama state history to serve in every statewide office, including Attorney General, Lt. Governor and Governor. During his tenure, before he was brought down by what appears to be a political case orchestrated at the time by former Alabama political consultant Karl Rove, he worked to bring attention to the state's serious domestic violence problems. Ironically, Fuller was finally removed from Siegelman's case, and a new judge since assigned, only after Mark Fuller's arrest on domestic battery charges last year.
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"