"Impeachment of former United States District Judge Mark E. Fuller [Middle District, Alabama] may be warranted," according to the Special Committee to the Judicial Council of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court.
While Fuller has already resigned from his lifetime appointment in the wake of his wife-beating scandal, the panel of federal judges found "the severity of the misconduct" by the former jurist so "reprehensible", they believe impeachment may be appropriate nonetheless.
"In the event that the House of Representatives determines in its sound discretion that impeachment is not warranted, this certification may also serve as a public censure of Judge Fuller's reprehensible conduct, which has no doubt brought disrepute to the Judiciary and cannot constitute the 'good behavior' required of a federal judge," U.S. Judicial Conference Secretary James C. Duff wrote in his letter [PDF] to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, accompanying the final report of the Special Committee.
As the panel of federal judges tasked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court with investigating the 2014 arrest of Alabama's U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller on spousal abuse charges proceeded over the past year, his Birmingham attorney, Barry Ragsdale, was adamant about his client's innocence.
Fuller "never hit, punched, slapped or kicked," his wife Kelli on the night he was hauled away by police from the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta following her chilling call to 911, Ragsdale repeated over and over to any media outlet which would listen.
Judge Fuller made similar "repeated statements under oath before the Special Committee," according to Duff. The Committee found those assertions to be "false."
As we suspected over the past year --- and as both 911 evidence and evidence from the divorce proceedings in Judge Fuller's previous marriage suggested as well --- Ragsdale's assertions on behalf of his client were completely untrue. At least according to the final report issued by that panel of judicial investigators last week.
In an email exchange with The BRAD BLOG earlier this year, Ragsdale even went so far as to describe our detailed coverage of the Fuller affair [see complete index below] as "sensationalized and misleading". He suggested that Fuller's second wife Kelli --- who, during that chilling call to 911, tearily begged for an ambulance, as apparent sounds of battering could be heard through the phone --- had made the entire thing up. Ragsdale claimed she admitted as much under oath during the probe by the judges impaneled to investigate the matter.
"Your blog entries on this case suffer from the very glaring misapprehension that Kelli Fuller was telling the truth when she claimed that Judge Fuller was 'beating on me' to the 911 dispatcher," Ragsdale told The BRAD BLOG via email last March. "The only thing that is clear from the 911 call is that Kelli Fuller was drunk when she made the call."
The Birhimgham attorney asserted that he had "a very decided advantage" over us "when discussing the facts of this matter," due to the fact that he had heard "the sworn testimony of all of the witnesses with knowledge about this case, and I have examined and cross-examined them under oath."
"The truth," Ragsdale continued in one part of his email that we declined to report publicly at the time, "is that even Kelli Fuller has admitted under oath that the 'slap' sounds that you think you hear on the 911 tape were not caused by Judge Fuller hitting her. Instead, Kelli Fuller has admitted under oath that the brief physical altercation between her and Judge Fuller was over before she ever called 911."
He claimed that it was Kelli Fuller who, in fact, "assault[ed]" and "attack[ed]" the judge, who was otherwise lying on the bed, minding his own business while watching TV.
Ragsdale's description of events at the Ritz-Carlton that night appear to be in stark contradiction to the report submitted by the panel of federal judges. They assert that Judge Fuller's behavior towards his wife was far worse than we had reported and included "at least" eight different instances of spousal abuse between Fuller and his second wife Kelli, "both before and after they were married, which included and culminated in the assault that took place on August 9, 2014, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, George," according to Duff's description of the Judicial Conference report.
While we reported some of Ragsdale's comments at the time, we declined to report both his characterization of Kelli Fuller's sworn testimony before the panel of judges, as well as his characterization of the sworn testimony by Fuller's first wife Lisa. In both cases, the testimony had been confidential at the time and it was impossible for us to verify what had or hadn't been said. We had only Ragsdale's word for it. Moreover, as his previous public assertions were often in apparent contradiction from known evidence --- and he was unwilling or unable to offer evidence to back up his assertions about the sworn, confidential testimony and other supposed evidence that he claimed to have access to --- it seemed irresponsible to uncritically publish hearsay and unverifiable claims that he was clearly offering us in hopes of exonerating his own client in the "court of public opinion".
The 11th Circuit Court's Judicial Council report, forwarded to the U.S. Judiciary Council and then to the U.S. House of Representatives last week, as AP notes, paints a very different picture of that probe, declaring that, in fact, Judge Fuller was a serial domestic abuser, whose conduct was nothing short of "reprehensible"...
Serial domestic abuse and perjury
The findings of the probe reportedly go far beyond the single incident that led to Fuller's arrest last year at the Atlanta Ritz-Carlton following Kelli Fuller's 911 call. The report submitted to federal legislators --- the only ones with the power to have removed Fuller, a 2002 George W. Bush nominee, from his lifetime appointment to the federal bench --- appears to be what led the controversial judge to finally submit his resignation last May after months of claiming innocence and vowing to never step down.
"There was substantial evidence that the judge 'physically abused Kelli Fuller at least eight times, both before and after they married," Duff's letter explains, constituting at least some of the "reprehensible conduct" described in the still-confidential report.
While Fuller finally stepped down from his $200,000/year job on August 1 this year, almost a full year after the hotel incident, his life has left a trail of victims who continue to pay the price for his "reprehensible conduct". Among the victims are his own family, of course. His first wife Lisa had also offered assertions in 2012 court documents that Fuller "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, who would go on to become the second Mrs. Fuller shortly thereafter.
Fuller's attorney Ragsdale has previously described Lisa Fuller's assertions as "nonsense" and "gossip". In his email exchange with The BRAD BLOG earlier this year, he similarly asserted that "the undisputed evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing establishes that Judge Fuller never hit, beat or otherwise abused his first wife, Lisa Fuller. Lisa Fuller testified under oath that there was never any domestic violence in their 29-year marriage." That, despite court documents which strongly suggest otherwise.
There are still other victims as well, like Alabama's former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, who remains in federal prison following trial and sentencing by Fuller who had, himself, held long personal and political grudges against the previously very popular Democratic Governor.
The letter to the U.S. House vaguely describes "false statements to the Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit in late September 2010 in a way that caused a massive disruption in the District Court's operation and loss of public confidence in the Court as an instrument of justice." The letter, unfortunately, offers no more details on what that event might refer to.
AP reports that "The conference wrote that Fuller denied under oath to the investigating committee that he ever hit, punched or kicked his wife, and that the investigating committee considered those to be false statements." In other words, Fuller also appears to have perjured himself during his testimony to the judicial panel.
Fuller's attorney Ragsdale, who had very vocally defended his client for months following Fuller's arrest in August of 2014, declined comment to both the AP and the New York Times after the Judicial Conference turned over its report to Congress last week. He has, as of yet, declined comment to The BRAD BLOG as well following the report sent to Congress.
Last March, however, Ragsdale asserted that Fuller's wife Kelli had denied, under oath, that the sounds of slapping heard on that 911 call were, in fact, her being struck. "When asked directly," Ragsdale told us, "she had no explanation of what the sounds were." He then went on to smear Kelli by suggesting she may have faked the audible slapping sounds because she was "intoxicated and hysterical" at the time.
"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," Ragsdale told us.
The U.S. Judicial Conference appears to disagree with Ragsdale.
'Reprehensible conduct' and impeachment
The Judicial Conference's charge that, due to the "severity of the misconduct", there was still "reason to consider impeaching" Fuller, "even though he had already resigned after being arrested and accused of striking his wife," leaves long odds for actual impeachment proceedings to take place in the U.S. House, the Times reports. Rather, the Judicial Conference is hoping to send a message to other jurists that such behavior will not be tolerated, the paper contends.
For his part, the House Speaker has referred the matter to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which is generally responsible for beginning impeachment hearings against federal officials, when warranted.
We have yet to receive comment from the House Judiciary Committee or from Alabama's U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who, as the only Democratic member of Alabama's Congressional contingent, had been among the most outspoken in demanding accountability for Judge Fuller.
Last February, we reported that the Republican Chair and Democratic Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee had sought to increase the committee's budget for the year in order to cover the expense of such a proceeding. Whether or not one will move forward, now that Fuller has finally stepped down, remains to be seen, though now seems unlikely.
Either way, remember: Fuller received no jail time for allegedly beating the crap out of his wife at that hotel in Atlanta because, as the state judge and prosecutor determined, it was just a first time offense. Instead, Fuller avoided prosecution entirely when he struck a deal for a pre-trial diversion that would allow his entire criminal record to be expunged in exchange for attending 24 weeks of a once-a-week domestic abuse counseling.
That, even though, as the Judicial Conference has now determined following months of investigation and dozens of hours of sworn testimony from dozens of witnesses, Fuller abused his wife Kelli --- over and again --- on at least eight different occasions. In the last known incident, in Atlanta, Kelli was left bloodied and bruised, according to police reports.
Gov. Siegelman, in the meantime, was sentenced to 7.5 years in the federal penitentiary by Fuller, for a crime that more than 113 bipartisan former state Attorneys General contend was never actually a crime at all until a Karl Rove-tied Alabama cabal prosecuted him for it. Siegelman is still serving out his sentence at the Federal Corrections Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Mark F. Fuller, the now-former federal Judge and serial domestic abuser, roams free.
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"
• 3/30/2015: "EXCLUSIVE: Judge Mark Fuller's Attorney Says 'Drunk' Wife Kelli Faked Being Beaten on 911 Call"
• 4/20/2015: "Updates in Judge Mark Fuller 'Wife Beating' Case: Criminal charges dismissed as expected; More testimony heard by 11th Circuit panel"
• 6/1/2015: "COURT FINDS 'GROUNDS FOR IMPEACHMENT' OF 'WIFE-BEATING' FEDERAL JUDGE MARK FULLER"
• 6/2/2015: "'Wife-Beating' Judge Mark Fuller Will NOT Receive Federal Pension After He 'Resigns in Shame': U.S. House Judiciary Committee Statement"