MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - If federal District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery thought he simply could wait out allegations of domestic abuse until the matter just died down, perhaps he should think again. Developments this week give a strong indication the matter is not just going to go away.
A source indicates that an evidentiary hearing was held this week in Atlanta by a panel of federal judges looking into allegations against Fuller. In addition, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for impeachment hearings, has asked for a budget increase based on the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Fuller after he was arrested on domestic abuse charges.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said recently that the committee may need additional funding for an impeachment task force, including lawyers, and to conduct its own investigation.
Of course, Fuller could do the right thing and resign before that happens. He should have stepped down long ago.
But it appears that Fuller is intent on trying to cling to his lifetime appointment -- and $200,000-a-year salary that he is still drawing despite being stripped of cases -- for as long as possible.
Fuller's behavior became public when police responded to a domestic abuse call at an Atlanta hotel. Fuller's wife had "visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead," according to the police report. The report stated that she told police that during an argument in which she had accused Fuller of infidelity with a court employee, he "threw her to the ground and kicked her."
"Mrs. Fuller also stated she was dragged around the room and Mr. Fuller hit her in the mouth several times with his hands," the police report continued.
Fuller has blamed the attack on his wife and maintained that he was defending himself.
Fuller was allowed to enter a pretrial diversion program that allowed him to get counseling to avoid charges being filed. If he successfully completes the counseling, his record would be expunged.
The fact that a sitting federal judge -- someone who knows the law and its consequences -- has hidden behind a diversion program to avoid charges is embarrassing to the federal judiciary and should be grounds enough for him to be ousted from the bench.
Lifetime appointments for federal judges exist for a good reason -- to allow them to avoid political pressure so that they can follow the law.
However, even though Fuller can only be forced from the bench by Congress through impeachment, the federal court system has other options for disciplining him.
Last year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals announced that Fuller would no longer hear cases until further notice. An investigation of Fuller was launched as well.
A special committee consisting of three circuit and two district court judges has been named to oversee the investigation of Fuller.
Last month, the Daily Report, a website that covers judicial issues and news in the Atlanta area, reported that an evidentiary hearing would be held in February on allegations against Fuller.
That hearing apparently was held this week.
In its story, the Daily Report quoted Arthur Hellman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and expert in federal judicial discipline, as saying that such evidentiary hearings may be necessary when investigators find conflicting testimony.
My own belief is that the holding of such a hearing is a strong indication that the special committee is going beyond just what happened in that hotel room in Atlanta and is looking at whether Fuller's behavior is a pattern and whether there are other incidents not reported to police. At the very least, the committee should be looking into such matters.
The special committee's report is not likely to be made public, but is likely to be presented to the circuit's Judicial Council. Any report from the Judicial Council likely would become public, but how much detail it will have remains to be seen.
The Judicial Council can censure Fuller or him to retire. If the Judicial Council feels that Fuller should be impeached, the council should refer the issue to the national Judicial Conference, which can send it to the U.S. House of Representatives for possible impeachment proceedings.
So there are lots of steps remaining before Fuller would face impeachment proceedings.
The Daily Report, which has an audience made up largely of lawyers and court officials, had another story on Fuller that might interest Alabama readers.
In October, the website conducted a poll of its subscribers -- again, mostly Georgia attorneys. Two out of three of the 169 respondents felt Fuller did not belong on the bench.
The unscientific poll found that 28.8 percent of respondents said that the matter should be referred for possible impeachment, 16.5 percent said Fuller should retire with his pension, 14.4 said he should retire without his pension, 3.6 percent said Fuller's suspension from handling cases should be extended, and 2.9 percent said he should be certified as disabled to allow him to be replaced.
Another 17.3 percent felt Fuller should be reprimanded publicly and 2.2 percent said he should be reprimanded privately.
Only 2.2 percent felt the matter should be dropped, and 12.2 percent felt there was not enough information to answer.
Those are telling numbers, considering that they come largely from those in the legal community.
I fall into the category of those who would prefer that Fuller retire, thus saving the taxpayers a lot of money and the court system a lot of further embarrassment. It's not at all certain that he would be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate.
In the nation's history only 15 federal judges have been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and only eight of them have been convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Three others resigned before being tried by the Senate.
But this much is clear: Fuller does not deserve to remain on the bench.