Alabama federal judge Mark E. Fuller, charged with beating his wife in a hotel, is facing intense bi-partisan pressure to resign that is influenced by a string of domestic violence cases plaguing the NFL, reports The New York Times.
The incident occurred Aug. 9, when Fuller’s wife Kelli told police he had hit her in the mouth several times, pulled her hair, and dragged and kicked her during an argument at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. The two had reportedly been fighting because Kelli thought he was having an affair with a law clerk. Responding Atlanta police noted Kelli had mouth and forehead lacerations.
For his part, Fuller told police he had defended himself after his wife threw a glass at him. He is undergoing a pre-trial diversion program that may result in the expungement of his misdemeanour charge, according to The Times. That requires a drug and alcohol evaluation, followed by Fuller’s participation in a family and domestic violence program once a week for 24 weeks, CNN reports.
The allegations sound eerily similar to the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident involving his then-fiance Janay Palmer, which also took place in a hotel, where security camera footage showed Rice punching his wife unconscious after a dispute and then dragging her out of an Atlantic City elevator. Like Fuller, Rice has avoided prosecution by agreeing to a one-year intervention program that will see his charges expunged upon completion.
Fuller has said he is “working to resolve these difficulties with my family,” as Rice has done with his now-wife. But unlike Rice, who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, Fuller plans to return to his career as a judge. “I also look forward to … returning to full, active status in the Middle District of Alabama,” he has said, according to CNN.
The outcry against Fuller demonstrates that the Ray Rice incident, in addition to other recent domestic violence cases among NFL players like Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Dwyer, has led to less tolerance of those actions in general. “The judge is brought down to the level of football players,” University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur D. Hellman told The Times. “You don’t normally see people talking about those two occupations in the same paragraph.”
Some prominent politicians who have made their voices heard this week are using the example of Rice to call for Fuller’s removal from the federal bench. “If an NFL player can lose his job because of domestic violence,” said Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell in a statement, “then a federal judge should definitely not be allowed to keep his lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”
Fuller’s actions are being reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which has decided to give Fuller’s caseload to colleagues while his charges are pending. The judges could apply sanctions if they believe Fuller’s behaviour outside the court weakens public confidence in him as a judge.
ESPN columnist and CNN contributor LZ Granderson says this is the time for Congress to use its powers for impeaching federal judges, although that is rare and no easy task. Since 1803, only 15 judges have been impeached, with four of those being acquitted and three resigning. But Granderson argues that it is hypocritical for some members of Congress to send letters to the NFL protesting second chances for players who assault women when Congress hasn’t taken any action against Fuller.
“If the 113th Congress — particularly those members so concerned about the “War on Women” — truly wanted to lead on this issue, it would roll up its sleeves and remove the man who allegedly pulled his wife’s hair, threw her on the ground, dragged her, kicked her and struck her multiple times in the face,” Granderson argued.
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