A notorious federal judge has resigned under the threat of impeachment — and thus provided a harsh but useful lesson for civic activists everywhere.
According to a federal court order June 1, fellow judges within the Atlanta-based Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recommended to the national Judicial Council that Alabama U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller, shown at right during a courtroom appearance as a defendant, be impeached as a first step for removal from his lifetime appointment.
Fuller, a federal judge since 2002, announced through his attorneys his resignation effective Aug. 1.
The resignation provides important civic lessons in the career of a judge whose disgraceful conduct we have been documenting for six years. But the system has protected him until an Atlanta policeman arrested him est last August in Atlanta on a misdemeanor charge of battery against his then-wife, Kelli Gregg Fuller. He is shown at left in a jail mugshot the morning of his arrest and at right in a later court appearance.
Fuller has also became widely known in legal reform circles for presiding over the 2006 trial and sentencing of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman in a federal corruption prosecution tainted by claims of gross legal irregularities. The Bush-era prosecution has been ratified by the courts and the Obama administration. Siegelman is not scheduled for release until mid-2017 for conduct that occurred in 1999.
A close study here and elsewhere of Fuller’s record has shown that his legally dubious decision-making has:
- Benefited his political allies and other cronies;
- Inflicted great suffering on political and personal targets appearing in his court;
- Become involved in repeated personal scandals; and
- Received until now minimal correction from timid oversight systems in the courts, Executive Branch and congress.
Alabama blogger Roger Shuler summed up the abuses in a column this week, Mark Fuller was the face of a system that allowed shadowy characters, like Bob Riley, to avoid scrutiny. Shuler, who has written hundreds of columns about Siegelman, particularly his ordeals under Fuller, asserted a de facto alliance between the Republican judge Fuller and Siegelman’s Republican rival, two-term Gov. Bob Riley (2003-2011).
“Fuller played a central role in the most notorious political prosecution of the period — and perhaps in American history — when he presided over the case of former governor Don Siegelman in the Middle District of Alabama,” wrote Shuler, who has fled Alabama with his wife after they were charged with contempt of court in a libel case brought by a prominent Alabama attorney Rob Riley, son of the former governor Riley and himself a prospective congressional candidate. Shuler, arrested on the contempt charge and beaten in his garage by a sheriff, was convicted in state court of resisting arrest and held without bond for five months until he agreed in March 2014 to spike his columns about the younger Riley.
“Siegelman remains at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, for a crime he did not commit — for a “crime,” in fact, that does not exist under U.S. law,” Shuler continued. “But this is where the Mark Fuller story becomes breathtakingly dark. Under judges like Fuller, and prosecutors of the Bush Department of Justice, it’s not just a matter of innocent people winding up behind bars. Such a broken system allows individuals who have genuine ties to criminality to operate with impunity.”
Out of Fuller’s gross misconduct, however, comes a valuable lesson for civic activists frustrated by other such derelictions nationally, especially in such normally prestigious positions as the judiciary and prosecution offices:
Shame those who enable official misconduct, not simply the miscreant.
That is a harsh and difficult remedy, especially for those with scant influence compared to a wealthy judge holding a lifetime appointment.
But recent developments illustrate the need for persistence.