In August, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller was arrested for assaulting his wife and charged with misdemeanor battery. The Atlanta Police report noted that Fuller’s wife “explained that she accused Fuller of having an affair with his law clerk.” Fuller allegedly responded by pulling her hair, throwing her to the ground, and striking her repeatedly.
This month, Atlanta prosecutors permitted Fuller to enter a diversion program rather than face a criminal trial. If Fuller successfully completes the program, which includes domestic abuse counseling and an alcohol and substance abuse assessment, the arrest will be expunged from his record.
Calls for Fuller’s resignation have become a virtual chorus since his arrest. Gov. Bentley, almost all of Alabama’s federal delegation, congressional candidates and many others have called for Fuller to voluntarily leave the bench.
Now Judge Fuller faces a five-judge committee responsible for making disciplinary recommendations to the federal court’s Judicial Council. Options for the committee run the spectrum from a formal reprimand to requesting that the judge resign.
The bigger question is whether simply calling for Fuller to resign marks an acceptable resolution.
While the prosecution against Fuller may be consistent with that of other first-offender domestic abuse cases, a federal judge is not a common defendant. Fuller holds an office that quite literally stands in judgment of others. By its nature, the position requires a high level of personal integrity and conduct.
The reason for that high standard of conduct is obvious. From now on, whenever Fuller hands down punishment, at times severe, defendants and onlookers alike will point to his pre-trial diversion as evidence of a double standard of justice.
The Constitution states that federal judges “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” Essentially, a federal judge holds his or her office for life unless he or she commits an impeachable offense. While impeachment is a rarely utilized disciplinary measure, Congress has wide discretion in its use.
The Federal Judicial Conference notes only 15 federal judges have been impeached since 1803 and only a handful of those have actually been convicted by the Senate and removed from office. The most recent judge to be impeached was U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous, who was removed from office in 2010. Notably, several of the impeached judges elected to resign during the impeachment proceedings.
By any measure, Judge Fuller’s conduct could hardly be considered “good behavior.” Although no judge has ever been impeached for domestic violence, such actions cannot be given a foothold in the federal judiciary. While the chorus calling for Fuller’s resignation will undoubtedly grow, Congress should send a message that domestic violence will not be tolerated by judges on the federal bench and file articles of impeachment.
The criminal justice system seems to be willing to give Judge Fuller a second chance, but the integrity of our judicial system cannot afford for Congress to simply call for his resignation and hope that he complies.