Alabama’s leading news organization has called for a scandal-plagued federal judge to resign after his arrest in Atlanta.
Al.com, a consortium of three newspapers that boasts of the largest readership in the state, published an editorial Aug. 22 saying U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, 55, should resign his lifetime appointment following his arrest on a battery charge against his wife, Kelli Gregg Fuller. She told police she had accused her husband of an affair with a court staffer under his supervision at the courthouse in Alabama’s state capital of Montgomery.
“It’s all too tawdry,” Al.com’s editorial stated. “Fuller’s actions show his ability to make good decisions is impaired.”
The wealthy judge, released on a $5,000 bond for a Fulton County court appearance Sept. 5, has gone into rehabilitation treatment and has hired top lawyers – including Jeffrey Brickman, a former boss of the judge, Fulton County Solicitor Georgee Corley, who will preside in Atlanta over the misdemeanor battery charge. Treatment sometimes persuades judges to vacate charges.
Meanwhile, the federal appeals court overseeing judges in a three-state region has transferred all of Fuller’s cases to other judges and launched a disciplinary investigation of the once powerful judge who from 2004 to 2011 presided as chief judge in Alabama’s federal middle district.
Furthermore, women’s rights and other civil rights advocates are gearing up for a mass protest against Fuller. His first wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, accused him in 2012 divorce papers of wife-beating and adultery with a clerk, plus drug and alcohol abuse.
Fuller, shown in his jail mug shot, completed his divorce protected by a special order from a Montgomery circuit judge, Anita Kelley. She sealed Fuller’s records despite his wife’s objections, a protest by our Justice Integrity Project along with two other news organizations — and a state law requiring open court records, including in divorce cases. Our project and others were unsuccessful also in obtaining comment from Fuller or his attorneys.
Fuller faces unusually harsh new criticism from the prominent local attorney, banker and entrepreneur Donald V. Watkins in addition to the attacks on the judge by his former allies in the media and supervisors at the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Watkins, shown at right in a Facebook portrait, is a longtime Birmingham lawyer and banker. He has repeatedly denounced Fuller on Facebook and called for “thousands” of protesters to march against defendant Sept. 5 at the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta.
“Fuller has earned a reputation as a hardcore ‘law and order’ judge for the harsh sentences he imposes in criminal cases,” Watkins said for a story published by the Montgomery Advertiser under the headline, Watkins Calls For Maximum Sentence For Fuller. “If Fuller is found guilty, we request that the Court sentence him to the maximum one-year jail time allowed under Georgia law for a misdemeanor. As I mentioned earlier, Judge Fuller believes in handing down maximum criminal sentences. I am sure he would want nothing less in his own case.”
Watkins has blistered Fuller and his allies since the arrest on many grounds, including domestic violence and hypocrisy. “Defendant Fuller is used to receiving special treatment in Alabama,” Watkins wrote in his open letter excerpted by the Advertiser. “He is part of the oligarchy of white men who run the State of Alabama. Fuller has absolutely no respect for women (or people of color).”
Watkins unveiled via Facebook on Aug. 24 an explosive new line of attack against Fuller. In a column entitled, Judicial Hypocrisy In Action: A Tale of Two Federal Judges, Watkins revealed the inside story of how Alabama’s federal judges in 2002 used rumors of womanizing to force the resignation of a Democratic-appointed African-American federal judge, H. Dean Buttram, Jr., after just four years into his lifetime appointment.
Watkins compared Buttram favorably with Fuller in this way:
“Buttram’s alleged womanizing never spilled over to the public arena,” Watkins wrote. “He was never arrested for battering his wife or any other woman. Whatever conduct compelled the judges to ask for Buttram’s resignation never rose to the level of a public spectacle. Buttram came to the bench as a scholar and gentleman, and he left as one.”
What may shape up as most important, however, is not so much new information added to years of long-simmering scandal regarding Fuller — but a strong, outspoken local messenger in Watkins, along with a public that has witnessed continuing scandals in Washington and across the nation. At the same time, Fuller’s protective shield of political allies in Alabama is showing big signs of erosion.