September 19, 2014 by Steve Levine

Federal Judge Urged To Resign For Battery

us federal judge

photo credit: Kamal H.

A furious public has made repeated calls for the resignation of federal Judge Mark E. Fuller, who was accused for hitting his wife last month in a luxury hotel room in Atlanta. Although he was charged and arrested in late August, the public outcry has intensified, with a number of the state’s top political figures joining in the chorus, urging him to step down. But removing a judge from his lifetime position on the federal bench is tricky – the U.S. Constitution states that federal judges can only be removed through congressional impeachment.

Judge Mark E. Fuller was appointed life tenure by former President George W. Bush in 2002. The first report of the altercation came from Kelli Fuller, the judge’s wife, who dialed 911 from a Ritz-Carlton hotel, saying that he had hit her after she confronted him about her suspicions that he was having an affair with a law clerk. The police noted in the report that Mrs. Fuller had lacerations to her mouth and forehead and that the hotel room was reeking of alcohol. Mrs. Fuller claimed that she was was pulled by the hair, thrown on the ground, kicked and repeatedly hit on the mouth and head.

The judge claimed that he was acting defensively after his wife threw a wine glass at him. He is now in a pretrial diversion program that will require counselling and drug and alcohol evaluation, and if successfully completed, could lead to the charges against him being erased. In addition to this, Judge Fuller has stated that the incident has been an embarrassment for both himself and his family and he hopes to resolve it without delay.

After the arrest, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that he would not be assigned any new cases and that his caseload would be assigned to other judges.

Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama has made a statement, covered by the Montgomery Advertiser, in which he condemns Judge Fuller stating that “[he] lost the confidence of his colleagues and the people of the state of Alabama and I urge him to resign immediately.”

Others who joined the request were Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Parallels were drawn to a recent incident involving NFL player Ray Rice who was forced to resign after an episode of domestic violence.

However none of these request will lead to anything substantial. Federal judges have the immunity of life tenure which means that only a congressional impeachment process can lead to Judge Fuller being dismissed from the job. In this regard, not even a felony can convict a judge, especially one that is not related to his legal work. Public calls for the resignation of one judge or another are fairly frequent throughout history, but the majority are related to legal decisions, not felonies.

The Federal Judicial Center reports that only 15 judges have been impeached since 1803, with only 8 being convicted and expelled from the federal bench. The last case when a federal judge was impeached was in 2010 when former U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteus, Jr. of Louisiana was impeached on charges of bribery and accepting gifts from people who were involved in previous cases.

If the past can tell us anything it’s that it may take a referral from the judicial branch before Congress initiates the impeachment process.

A special committee of appellate and circuit judges has to be formed by an acting chief judge of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to investigate the claims that were brought up against Judge Mark E. Fuller. It’s up to the circuit council, a special body of the 11th Circuit Court, to determine what the sanctions will be (if any). These could range from a private or public reprimand to not having any new cases assigned for a specified amount of time.

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