Critiques of the Judiciary
Impeachment for Misconduct
The U.S. Judicial Conference in 2015 indicated a willingness to take a hard line toward judicial misconduct, even against judges who have left the bench. This conflicts sharply with the Fifth Circuit's ruling that holds harmless judges who are guilty of crimes but who retire before being investigated for misconduct.
Mark Fuller, Former Federal District Court Judge, Could Be ImpeachedALAN BLINDERSeptember 18, 2015
A high-level committee of federal judges told Congress this month that lawmakers had reason to consider impeaching Mark E. Fuller, a former Federal District Court judge in Alabama, even though he had already resigned after being arrested and accused of striking his wife.
But legal ethicists and scholars said that the committee, the Judicial Conference of the United States, was sending a broader message to a sometimes skeptical Congress that the judiciary was willing to embrace a hard line toward its own, even on matters of misbehavior outside the courtroom and even after a judge has left the bench. The action, experts said, suggested that some of the country's leading judges wanted to use a forceful demonstration of discipline to try to quell years of misgivings on Capitol Hill.
"They didn't pull any punches," said Arthur Hellman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in judicial ethics. "They didn't try to whitewash it in any way, and I think that's part of the message they're trying to convey: If a federal judge does something bad, the judiciary will take steps to force him off the bench."
Mr. Fuller submitted his resignation letter on May 29, about a month after a committee filed a report that led the Judicial Conference to tell Congress that "substantial evidence" existed that Mr. Fuller physically abused his wife, before and during their marriage, at least eight times. Mr. Fuller was also accused of committing perjury when he testified before a panel that investigated the circumstances of his August 2014 arrest.
A lawyer for Mr. Fuller, Barry Ragsdale, declined to comment on Friday.
Legal analysts say that Mr. Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush who faced allegations of partisanship during his handling of the corruption trial of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat, is unlikely to be impeached. Some lawyers questioned whether any proceedings would be constitutional because Mr. Fuller was no longer on the bench. But the Judicial Conference's secretary, James C. Duff, wrote that the judges had found that the "severity of the misconduct" justified the formal notice to Congress.
"In the event that the House of Representatives determines in its sound discretion that impeachment is not warranted, this certification may also serve as a public censure of Judge Fuller's reprehensible conduct, which has no doubt brought disrepute to the Judiciary and cannot constitute the ‘good behavior' required of a federal judge," Mr. Duff wrote.
Analysts said the judges may have felt compelled to respond so strongly because the accusations included both spousal abuse and perjury.
Speaker John A. Boehner referred the certification to the House Judiciary Committee, which would be responsible for starting impeachment proceedings.
But even if Mr. Fuller does not face discipline from Congress, the Judicial Conference's move is expected to reverberate with judges nationwide.
"They want to use this as a teaching moment for the federal judiciary," said Charles G. Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University who testified during impeachment proceedings against a different federal judge.
Members of Congress have long voiced questions about judicial conduct, so much so that in 2004, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist appointed a panel to evaluate the judicial branch's approach.
Although the panel made recommendations in its public report, questions persisted, and Mr. Hellman said the Judicial Conference's notice appeared to be a renewed effort to ease Congress' worries about the effectiveness of judicial discipline.
Whether Congress will be satisfied is another question. In May, before Mr. Fuller announced his resignation, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, reintroduced a measure to establish an inspector general for the judiciary.
"The fact remains," Mr. Grassley said then, "that the current practice of self-regulation of judges with respect to ethics and the judicial code of conduct has time and again proven inadequate."
On Friday, Mr. Grassley's office did not respond to a message seeking comment.Copyright 2015, The New York Times Company
From: Alan Blinder, "Mark Fuller, Former Federal District Court Judge, Could Be Impeached," The New York Times, September 18, 2015, accessed 09/29/2017. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
- Alan Blinder and Campbell Robertson, "Judge Accused of Assaulting Wife Is Urged to Resign," The New York Times, September 18, 2014.
- "Mark Fuller," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Fuller, accessed 02/17/2017.
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