Disgraced Federal Judge May Still Face Impeachment

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By Kimberly Robinson

Sept. 18 — Former federal Judge Mark E. Fuller (M.D. Ala.) may still face impeachment despite his resignation earlier this year following his 2014 arrest for physically assaulting his wife in a hotel room in Atlanta.

Fuller's impeachment may still be warranted, the Judicial Conference of the United States certified in a Sept. 11 letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The Judicial Conference is the self-described “policy-making body for the federal court system,” whose members include circuit and district court judges.

“In a case with less egregious and protected conduct, the Judicial Conference may decide that resignation obviates the need for certification,” the letter said.

“However, given the severity of the misconduct,” including a finding of perjury, the Judicial Conference believed that certification to the House was appropriate here.

A spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee declined to specify what steps the committee was now considering.

Judicial impeachment is exceedingly rare. Only 15 federal judges have ever been impeached, with just three occurring in the past 25 years, William G. Ross, a professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, told Bloomberg BNA in June, following Fuller's resignation.

‘Reprehensible Conduct.'

Although impeachment of federal judges is left to Congress, the letter notes that “the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, 28 U.S.C. §§351–64, creates a distinct role of the Judiciary in the process.”

“The Act mandates a process through which the Judicial Conference and its members identify and investigate allegations of misconduct by judges.”

The Judicial Conference's investigation revealed that Fuller “physically abused [his wife] at least eight times, both before and after they married, which included and culminated in the assault that took place on August 9, 2014, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia,” the letter said.

It also said that he “made repeated statements under oath before the Special Committee [to the Judicial Council of the Eleventh Circuit] that he never, at any time, hit, kicked, or punched Kelli Fuller, which were false.”

The letter added, however, that “given Judge Fuller's resignation, Congress may decline to pursue impeachment.”

In that case, the Judicial Conference's certification may “serve as a public censure of Judge Fuller's reprehensible conduct, which has no doubt brought disrepute to the Judiciary.”

JC&D Rules

The Judicial Conference letter regarding Fuller coincides with the body's first ever revisions to the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial-Disability Proceedings since they were adopted in 2008, Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit told reporters Sept. 17 following the group's biannual meeting. Traxler is the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference.

The JC&D Rules apply to all federal judges, though not the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Traxler said.

The revisions provide two “new grounds for ‘cognizable misconduct' including ‘retaliating against complainants, witnesses, or others for their participation in the complaint process' (Rule 3(h)); or ‘refusing without good cause shown, to cooperate in the investigation of a complaint under these rules' (Rule 3(h)),” a Sept. 17 Judicial Conference press release said.

Traxler said these kinds of actions may have constituted violations of the JC&D Rules prior to the revisions, but the changes just provide more clarity.

It's always good to provide as much clarity as reasonably possible, Traxler said.

He added that he doesn't know if the revisions resulted from specific instances of judicial misconduct.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

Full text of the Sept. 11 letter at http://pub.bna.com/lw/20150911FullerLetter.pdf.