Posts Tagged ‘domestic violence’

What Happens When a Federal District Court Judge Beats His Wife? – posted 11/2/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor on 11/8/2014

November 2, 2014 2 comments

This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on November 8, 2014 under the title “Why are athletes held to a higher standard than judges?”

Ever since the Ray Rice domestic violence case exploded across the media, public attention to domestic violence has probably reached an all-time high. The video of Rice’s brutal assault on his then-fiancee opened a window into a world that is almost always locked behind closed doors. Just about everyone had an opinion about how the NFL should punish Rice. The NFL ended up suspending Rice indefinitely after first blundering with a two game suspension.

Since August, there has been another high profile domestic violence case which has almost inexplicably received much less public attention. That is the case of Alabama Federal Court Judge Mark Fuller. Fuller has been on the bench since 2002 when he was appointed by President George W. Bush. Previously, Fuller was best known for presiding over the highly controversial bribery trial of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

While there is no video of the alleged domestic violence, there is a recorded 911 call from Judge Fuller’s wife, Kelli Fuller. The call came from a Ritz Carlton hotel room in Atlanta on the evening of August 9. Mrs. Fuller reported that the judge had assaulted her during an argument about her suspicions that the judge had been having an extramarital affair with a law clerk.

In a police report, Mrs. Fuller stated that after she confronted him, the judge pulled her hair, threw her to the ground and kicked her. She also stated that she was dragged across the hotel room. She reported that the judge hit her in the mouth several times with his hands. Mrs. Fuller further reported the judge had been drinking that night.

The officers on the scene reported Mrs. Fuller had “visible cuts on her mouth and forehead when she answered the door in tears”. The officers observed bruises on Mrs. Fuller’s legs. Judge Fuller had no visible injuries.

In his interview with the police, Judge Fuller said he acted defensively after his wife hurled a drink glass toward him while he watched CNN.

Judge Fuller’s 17 year old stepson who was also at the hotel told the police that this episode was similar to past confrontations between Mrs. Fuller and the judge.

After his arrest for misdemeanor battery, the police released Judge Fuller from jail and he posted $5000 bail. He then subsequently accepted a plea deal in which he agreed to go to 24 weeks of counselling. After the completion of once-weekly abuse counselling and a drug/alcohol evaluation, his arrest record will be expunged. There will be no trial to establish facts. As Margaret Talbot pointed out in an excellent article in the New Yorker, nationally fewer than 10% of domestic abuse charges lead to pretrial diversion programs like Fuller’s. The judge is effectively getting a slap on the wrist.

Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court overseeing the federal court in Alabama, suspended Judge Fuller from hearing cases, pending an investigation. For now, all Fuller’s cases have been reassigned to other judges and he will not be assigned new cases. He does continue to receive his salary.

So far Judge Fuller has refused calls that he resign. He has made it clear he intends to resume his judicial duties soon. He has requested privacy so his family can heal.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District has publicly called for Judge Fuller’s resignation as has the entire Alabama Congressional Delegation including both Republican Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. If Judge Fuller does not resign, Congresswoman Sewell has announced an intention to initiate impeachment proceedings.

In a recent interview, Judge Fuller and his attorney, Barry Ragsdale, both dismissed calls to resign as response to “public pressure and public passions that a federal judge doesn’t have to respond to.” Judge Fuller’s attorney took it a step farther:

“It 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”.

I do not think it is going out on much of a limb to say that if a federal judge commits domestic violence, Congress should impeach him if he does not resign. While impeachment for off-the-bench misconduct by a federal judge may be rare, I do not see the circumstances as a close to the line situation. Judge Fuller is way over the line. Wife-beating is one of those off-the-bench acts of misconduct that makes the impeachment-worthy list.

At present we have Ray Rice going down and losing his job but Judge Fuller gets a sweet deal and skates. At least that is where things stand now. I have been surprised how muted reaction has been to Judge Fuller’s case. To date, the federal judiciary’s response to Judge Fuller has been weaker than the NFL’s response to Rice. I would think the court would be worried about double standards and such a tiny punishment for a serious crime.

The Code of Conduct for United States Judges could not be clearer: “A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities”. The prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct.

Commentary on the judicial canon goes on to state: “Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges…A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny and accept freely and willingly restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.”

As should be obvious, it tarnishes the federal judiciary to keep a wife-beater on the bench. I also think it is an insult to victims of domestic violence as Judge Fuller’s continued presence on the bench trivializes the crime. The judge should not be able to hide behind a veil of privacy.

The feminist movement over the last 50 years has shown how the concept of family privacy shielded wife abuse. It is now recognized that wife-beating does not fall into a zone of privacy. It is a crime against the community – not just the victim. As law professor Reva Siegel has pointed out, there is a long history of men who assault their wives being granted immunity from prosecution supposedly in order to protect the privacy of the family and domestic harmony.

So what happens when a federal judge beats his wife? Apparently not a lot. It needs to be studied. Judge Fuller must be hoping he can simply ride out what storm there is. Are we really going to let a professional football player be held to a higher standard than a federal judge? It remains to be seen what price Judge Fuller will pay.

A Hidden Insidious Plague: Emotional Abuse – published in the Concord Monitor 4/4/10 – posted 4/7/2013

April 7, 2013 1 comment

I had never previously posted this piece on my website. I wrote it back in 2010. It was published back then in my local paper, the Concord Monitor. As I had written previously there were some articles that I never had put up before. This is one of them. Jon

When I think about domestic violence, the image that comes to mind is a physical assault like a slap or a punch. It could be Rihanna getting beaten by her ex-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. Or it could be something more horrific like the domestic violence-related murders of Phyllis Marchand, Suzanne Vernet, and Melissa Charbonneau, three New Hampshire women, that occurred last year.

To the extent emotional abuse is acknowledged, it is a secondary, background aspect of domestic violence. You can’t see it like you can see a black eye, a bruise or a broken bone. Nor is it easily quantifiable. Whether it has a history would likely depend on which partner in a couple you believed.

Emotional abuse is heavily contested terrain. In any couple, both parties can claim it, and it may be hard to know where the truth lies.

New Hampshire’s domestic violence law defines abuse as a laundry list of criminal acts such as assault, interference with freedom and harassment. It also includes criminal threatening. It does not include name-calling, belittling, berating, excessive screaming or extreme personal argumentativeness.These behaviors are probably too hard to prove with a high degree of reliability. As a society, we are not prepared to criminalize this conduct. Emotional abuse falls into a gray area that the law has a difficult time getting at.

What I am calling emotional abuse is behavior used to control, degrade, humiliate and punish a spouse or partner. It wears the person down. It makes her or him an object of constant blame. It robs the person of self-esteem and weakens self-confidence. Eventually, fear of the anger of the abuser controls the victim. So much energy is expended figuring out how not to get the abuser angry that there is no energy left to fight back against the controlling behavior.

The victim of emotional abuse is something of a torture victim. Except Abu Ghraib prison is the victim’s own home. Or, maybe a more accurate way to describe it is that the prison is a black site and outsiders don’t know the torture victim lives next door.

While no one case can adequately convey the variability and mutations of emotional abuse, I want to tell a story about a married couple I will call Randy and Laura – out-of-state lawyers I knew well who were married for more than 20 years.

Before they got married, Randy found a sexy backless red dress in Laura’s closet. He asked her where she got it, and she explained that the dress was a gift from a former boyfriend. Randy then burned the dress.

At the time, they had not been dating for long. Randy profusely apologized, and Laura let it go. It proved to be a missed red flag. Laura subsequently got pregnant. And while she voiced some misgivings, they got married. Not long before they started dating, Laura had been sexually assaulted. She fought off the attacker but the experience left her shaken. Randy appeared on the scene initially as a chivalrous protector.

After the marriage, Randy’s pattern of name-calling, constant argument and berating dramatically escalated. He called Laura a liar, a bitch, argumentative, manipulativeand untrustworthy. He accused her of his own bad behaviors. His flair was turning reality upside down.

They had two children, and issues around the kids turned into another battleground. According to Randy, Laura was too permissive as a parent. He did not simply speak the truth on all occasions – he defined reality.

If there was a disagreement when they were out driving, Randy would force Laura out of the car, even in dangerous neighborhoods. Sometimes, he would come back to offer a ride. He always had to get the last word in.Randy liked to stay calm in his constant irrational arguments, using his evenness as a way to push Laura over the edge. His demeanor said that as long as I am calm, you cannot describe anything I do as abusive, no matter how cruel.

After many years, Laura moved out. Randy showed up at Laura’s new place and tried to kick her door in. The husband of a friend intervened to protect her. Randy backed down.

As a lawyer, Randy knew domestic violence law inside and out. The door-kicking incident aside, he walked the line of the law, and he had a litany of excuses for bad behavior. Laura also knew the law, but she feared Randy’s reaction if she filed a protection-from-abuse order. She also doubted the abuse allegations would fly because of Randy’s deviousness and the law’s narrow definitions of abuse.

When Laura went to Randy’s house to help the kids with homework or for other reasons, he sometimes confiscated her car keys, her pocketbook or even her client files. On one occasion, he grabbed some files and threw them into the snowy front yard. Laura remained afraid to get angry because when she did, he became his most unreasonable. Everything she did was designed to avoid upsetting him, but she never succeeded.

Although Laura separated from Randy, she never could follow through on divorce. She contacted lawyers and once got as far as drafting a complaint to initiate a divorce. But she never filed court papers. She was scared of the fight with Randy and believed it would be better for the kids if she maintained a separation without divorcing. She knew how he was as a separated spouse. She did not know how he would be as a divorcing and divorced spouse.

Meanwhile, Randy used access to the kids as a way to control her. Although they theoretically shared custody, Laura let her kids live at his house. He forbid them from staying at Laura’s apartment. She accommodated him out of fear of rocking the boat. Randy had threatened to leave the country and snatch the kids, and Laura took that threat seriously.

When one of Laura’s relatives confronted Randy about his abuse, Randy forbid the relative from having any contact with the children.

Although she tried to deflect attention away from the fact of her own abuse, Laura suffered horribly because of it. She died at an early age because of cancer.

In her book Trauma and Recovery, Dr Judith Herman states that the methods of establishing control over another person are based upon the systematic, repetitive infliction of psychological trauma. It is disturbing to know that the emotional abuse inflicted on Laura and other domestic violence victims is consistent with coercive techniques as described by hostages, political prisoners, and survivors of concentration camps.

Right now, emotional abuse remains subterranean, largely outside the law. Maybe someday a society better attuned to understanding will figure a way to address emotional abuse as well as a way to hold perpetrators accountable.