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Posted: 6:02 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014

Domestic violence arrest unlikely to remove federal judge from bench

By Rhonda Cook

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Federal Judge Mark Fuller is unlikely to face any professional repercussions because of his misdemeanor battery charge brought over the weekend after he was accused of a physical altercation with his wife at a downtown Atlanta hotel.

With a lifetime appointment to the federal court, the only way to remove a judge from the bench is via the long and complicated impeachment process and then a trial in the U.S. Senate, according to experts. Federal judges accused of felonies have not been immediately removed though some have resigned. Fuller is charged with a misdemeanor.

“He has life tenure,” said Stephen Bright, senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights who also teaches at Yale Law School.

U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who was visiting Atlanta from Montgomery, Ala., is charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly striking his wife and pulling out her hair during an argument over her allegations that he had been unfaithful.

Fuller, 55, spent 35 hours in the Fulton County Jail. During that time he was protected by “additional security measures and segregation” that the jail employs when it holds judges, law enforcement officers or lawmakers.

“This does not equate to special treatment but rather enhanced security in light of circumstances,” said Tracy Flanagan, spokeswoman for the jail.

For his court appearance Monday, Fuller was wearing a blue jumpsuit with “FULTON COUNTY JAIL INMATE” stenciled on the back. He was represented by a public defender.

Fuller was released from jail around 11:30 a.m., having posted a $5,000 signature bond.

Fuller did not respond to a telephone message left at his office in Montgomery.

He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 22 on the one misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail.

Alcohol and accusations of infidelity set off the argument between Fuller and his wife, according to the report from the officer dispatched to the Ritz Carlton just before 11 a.m. Saturday.

He wrote “there was a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage” in the room and he saw broken glass and strands of hair on the floor.

Kellie Fuller, who had cuts to her mouth and forehead, said they had been were arguing about whether her husband was having an affair with a member of his staff. She said he pulled her hair, threw her to the ground and kicked her.

Fuller said he was simply defending himself when his wife “became violent after confronting him about being unfaithful.”

If the case goes to trial, it could be many months before it is resolved.

And even if Fuller is convicted or pleads guilty, it was unlikely any moves would be made to remove him from the bench, according to experts who noted examples of federal judges accused of felonies and were allowed to resign.

Former U.S. District Judge Jack T. Camp, based in Newnan, was allowed to keep his pension after he resigned. He pleaded guilty three years ago to charges he procured drugs for a stripper and conversion of government property for giving her his government-issued laptop computer.

To protect his pension, former Judge Samuel Kent in Texas resigned in 2009 after several congressmen threatened impeachment if he did not immediately leave the bench after he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for lying to investigators about sexually abusing two female employees.

“It’s extremely difficult to remove (a U.S. District Court) judge from office unless the judge chooses to resign and that doesn’t happen very often,” said Clark Cunningham, the W. Lee Burge Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia State University.

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