Say, for the sake of argument, that you’re in court, appearing before a judge. Would you feel confident about the guy in robes if you knew that he’d copped a plea after beating his wife?
If your answer is “Yes,” if your attitude is that the judge’s problems are strictly personal, then you probably think that Mark Fuller still belongs on the federal bench. But if your answer is “No,” if you think that a wife-beating judge should be held to the same standard as a wife-beating jock, then you probably agree with me that Fuller should quit forthwith. And that if he refuses to quit, he should be impeached and ousted by Congress.
It speaks volumes about our pigskin-addled culture that Ray Rice of elevator infamy has gotten way more attention than this pugilistic federal court judge in Alabama. Not long ago, 16 U.S. senators chided the football commissioner in a letter, declaring that “if you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.” But under the terms of Fuller’s plea deal, he’ll likely get a second chance to sit on the bench and rule anew on the laws of the land.
Fortunately, a panel of federal judges has been tasked to decide whether Fuller should face sanctions of some sort; under the rules of conduct, they have to determine whether Fuller’s behavior outside the courtoom could cause “a prejudicial effect on the administration of the business of the courts, including a substantial and widespread lowering of public confidence in the courts among reasonable people.” There’s plenty of wiggle room in that wording, but Fuller’s case gives them lots to work with.
It all started on Aug. 9, when Fuller’s wife (his new wife) called 911 and said, “Help me, please. Please, help me. He’s beating on me.”
The 911 dispatcher told the ambulance people, “I can hear him hitting her now.” The subsequent police report said that Mrs. Fuller had “visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead.” She stated that the judge “pulled her hair and threw her to the ground and kicked her…she was dragged around the room, and Mr. Fuller hit her in the mouth several times with his hands.” The cops found hair on the floor, and blood in the bathroom.
The judge, who had no physical injuries, was jailed on a charge of misdemeanor battery. But as a first-time offender, he was fast-tracked into a counseling program, and if he completes it successfully, his criminal record will be expunged. It’s basically the same deal Ray Rice got in New Jersey. (Actually, Fuller’s previous wife had also alleged domestic violence. Their divorce records were sealed, at Fuller’s request, in 2012.)
So, the bottom line: Since Rice has been barred from toting a ball, shouldn’t the bar be just as high for federal judges – whose job is to protect the integrity of the law?
The good news is that top Alabama Republicans want Fuller to quit his lifetime gig. (He was a George W. Bush appointee.) Sen. Jeff Sessions says that Fuller’s “personal conduct violates the trust that has been placed in him.” Sen. Richard Shelby says, “The American people’s trust in our judicial system depends on the character and integrity of those who have the distinct honor of sitting on the bench. (Fuller) has lost the confidence of his colleagues and the people of the state of Alabama.”
And Alabama Republican congresswoman Martha Roby says: “This is a very serious matter…Ultimately, the Constitution empowers Congress to impeach members of the judicial branch for misconduct.” But if Fuller refuses to go, would Congress actually make him go? Ah, there’s the rub.
Article 3 decrees that federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behavior” – unless their impeached for bad behavior. But bad behavior isn’t defined. Article 1 merely says that miscreants shall be impeached from “any office of honor, trust, or profit.” And Congress has rarely policed the judiciary that way; since 1803, only 15 judges have been impeached, typically for misdeeds on the job. Four of those judges were acquitted, three resigned, and eight were forcibly removed.
None of those cases involved domestic violence – although Congress, in 2009, did impeach federal judge Samuel Kent for sexually assaulting women on his staff (Kent subsquently quit). At minimum, the Kent case suggests that lawmakers have become sensitized. Which makes sense, this being the 21st century. And if domestic violence – criminal assault behind closed doors – is really the serious scourge that everyone (finally) says it is, then Congress should be willing to move against Fuller.
Back in 2006, while sentencing an ex-Alabama governor in a major case, Fuller told the guy: “You and I took an oath to uphold the law. You have violated that oath.” Now Fuller has done the same. Time to go.
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