Federal Judge Faces Wife-Beating Charges; Refuses to Step Down

3293465641_b6c5081e87_zA federal judge in Alabama was arrested in August after his wife called 911 to report domestic violence. On the 911 tape, Kelli Fuller, wife of Judge Mark Fuller, says, “Help me, please. Please help me. He’s beating on me,” while the sounds of one person striking another can be heard in the background.

Judge Fuller was released on a $5,000 bond and later offered a deal through a pretrial diversion program: His record may be expunged if he completes a 24-week family violence counseling program and submits to a drug and alcohol evaluation.

What’s most shocking about this case is not the featherweight punishment the judge received, though—it’s the fact that he’s hasn’t resigned and could remain on the bench.

While he’s currently suspended from his appointed-for-life position, impeachment proceedings have not begun (only Congress can remove a federal judge). And his lawyer, Barry Ragsdale, has only offered haughty responses to those who suggest he should step down, including several of Alabama’s senators and members of Congress.


One of the politicians calling for his resignation, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), said in a statement, “Judge Fuller’s unacceptable personal conduct violates the trust that has been placed in him. He can no longer effectively serve in his position and should step down.”

To which Ragsdale replied:

All those fine people are entitled to their opinion, but that holds no more sway over him than anything else. … [Fuller] knows what occurred and the conduct he engaged in and what he hasn’t, and he recognizes those politicians have a need to respond to public pressure and public passions that a federal judge doesn’t have to respond to.

Could it be that even the NFL did a better job of handling domestic violence when one of its players, Ray Rice, was seen beating his then-fiancee in a video? (Rice was suspended from the league indefinitely).

Local news site AL.com began calling for the judge’s resignation back in August. In an op-ed, the site’s editorial board wrote:

There are some occupations where second and third chances are appropriate, even necessary. But others have less margin for error. We believe the men and women who sit in judgment of those accused of wrongdoing are in that second category. Judges must apply the law to those who have done harm and do it without fear or favor. They should be beyond reproach in their understanding and application of the law, and circumspect in their personal lives.

But Ragsdale said last week that the response from the media has been unfair; that Fuller has been lumped in with the likes of Ray Rice, and that what his client did isn’t so bad (Fuller’s wife had “visible lacerations to her mouth and forehead” after the incident, according to a police report). Ragsdale argued,

[Fuller’s case] got caught up in the Ray Rice and NFL scandals and it’s gotten lumped into a category of domestic violence that I don’t think it belongs in. There was not a beating, kicking or slapping in this instance.

In fact, that’s exactly what Ms. Fuller accused him of. She told 911 she was being beaten, and police reported that her face and legs were bruised and bloodied when they arrived at the hotel where the incident took place. Law enforcement also said it looked like Ms. Fuller had been dragged around the room by her hair, while Judge Fuller was unharmed.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing the case and could reprimand Judge Fuller or send his case on to the Judicial Conference of the United States for further consideration. And Congress can vote him out, but rarely takes that type of action.

A petition on the website CREDO Action is calling for Fuller’s impeachment by Congress. Click here to add your name and voice your outrage!

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. newsletter.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Brian Turner licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.