Bully Judge gets Clemency (Surprise!)

Update: Judge Fuller declared on June 20, 2011 that he will retire from the bench, rather than continue working under strict supervision until the mandatory retirement age of 70. The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Judge Fuller had to retire unless he agreed to undergo a six-month suspension followed by strict probation for misconduct that included mistreating lawyers, court personnel and others. Fuller claimed he could not afford the cost of the suspension and probation, which he estimated to be $174,000. He says he will start working as an attorney in July.  Fuller, who allegedly sent clerks fleeing from his courtroom in tears, was deemed fully capable of “rehabilitation”  by the South Dakota Supreme Court, which ruled that he could remain on the bench until his retirement if he followed a required plan of action, including behavioral therapy.  PGB

May 20, 2011 – The South Dakota Supreme Court has given 7th Circuit Judge A.P. “Pete” Fuller the chance he sought to remain on the bench until the end of 2013 so that he can retire at the age of 70 with full benefits.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the Court ordered Fuller’s immediate retirement unless he follows a required plan of “rehabilitation.”   He must agree in writing to accept a six-month suspension without pay and an indefinite probation when he returns to the bench.  Fuller must also agree:

  • To pay for the Judicial Qualification Commission’s expenses, including attorney’s fees. The commission had recommended Fuller retire or be removed from the bench.
  •  While on suspension, Fuller would be expected to pay for and complete an accredited course in judicial ethics and resume behavioral therapy until completed.
  • If Fuller returns to the bench, the court will randomly poll judges, attorneys, court personnel and others to monitor his conduct.
  • Any violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or a failure to comply with the court’s conditions would result in his involuntary retirement.

Although the court granted him clemency, ” Chief Justice David Gilbertson was less than conciliatory in writing for the court in a unanimous opinion,  “Judge Fuller has not only damaged his judicial office but those of every judge in the state.”

“Fuller maligned the reputation of South Dakota’s judiciary. Insulted individual lawyers, has uttered insensitive racial and sexist jokes, has conducted himself on the bench with unconscionable arrogance, has used abuse language, has rudely mistreated employees of the Unified Judicial System, and has flippantly from the bench referred to law enforcement as a ‘bunch of racists’ with no evidentiary basis,” Gilbertson wrote.

However, at the conclusion of his opinion, Justice Gilbertson opines:  “Fuller is capable of rehabilitation.

This is the first time in the court’s 121-year history that it has taken steps to remove a judge from the bench. Fuller was suspended in October after he was charged with violating four canons of South Dakota’s Code of Judicial Ethics.  Fuller, who was appointed to the bench in 2003, fought tenaciously to keep his job, with his lawyers arguing that he thought he was being funny and had never realized  that his actions perceived as bullying.

According to opinion of the high court, two female clerks, one with 40 years of experience, refused to go into Judge Fuller’s courtroom because of his “degrading comments, swearing, anger, and disrespect … While Fuller denied using profanity, he admitted treating [the clerk’s staff] rudely and disrespectfully.” He also referred disparagingly to the presence  of women in the legal profession and called juveniles “peckerheads,” among other things.

Fuller has 30 days to decide whether he will comply with the requirements to remain on the bench.

Bully Judge Clueless for Decade?

 

Update: Judge Fuller declared on June 20, 2011 that he will  retire from the bench, rather than continue working under strict supervision until the mandatory retirement age of 70.  The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Judge Fuller had to retire unless he agreed to undergo a six-month suspension followed by strict probation for misconduct that included mistreating lawyers, court personnel and others. Fuller claimed he could not afford the cost of the suspension and probation, which he estimated to be $174,000. He says he will start working as an attorney in July. PGB

April 28, 2011 – The South Dakota Supreme Court is considering whether to return suspended 7th Circuit Judge A.P. “Pete” Fuller to the bench after complaints that amount to bullying.

In a plea to keep his job, Fuller, 68, said “I am ashamed … My conduct and actions have affected people I love and respect.”

According to the Rapid City Journal, Fuller’s tearful demeanor was a sharp contrast to the irreverent, caustic description painted by the findings of Judicial Qualifications Commission that has asked the state’s top court to remove or retire an elected judge for the first time in its 121-year history.

The Journal says that an investigation and transcripts of two closed-door hearings of the commission record the testimony of several people who described Fuller’s behavior as verbally abusive, sometimes profane and often biased, both in formal court setting and at other times.

Court documents state Fuller gave one attorney the ” bird” and publicly referred to juvenile court as “little prick day.”

During the hearings, Fuller acknowledged that some of his conduct was inappropriate but denied other allegations, including his alleged use of profanity in front of clerks of court.

Fuller said he had enrolled in anger-management classes and now understood that others perceived his irritation and annoyance with situations as “anger and rudeness and abrasiveness, and I believe somebody even said bullying.”

“It never dawned on him that he was mistreating people,” said one of two lawyers representing Fuller.

Much of the inappropriate conduct that Fuller is accused of was never dealt with during his 10 years on the bench, and he received no feedback suggesting that his conduct was inappropriate, Fuller’s other lawyer said.

In response, Attorney Michael Schaffer, who represented the commission said:

He got feedback when deputy clerks ran out of the courtroom in tears.”

“This inquiry … comes down to Judge Fuller’s conduct. The conduct of Judge Fuller basically concerns his treatment of people in his court and his treatment of people as a judge,” Schaffer said.

Fuller’s lawyers are attempting to portray the matter as having political undertones, while stressing the importance of an independent judiciary.  Fuller allegedly referred to law enforcement officers as a “bunch of racists” during a juvenile hearing, prompting complaints from law enforcement and prosecutors.

– PGB (barnespatg@gmail.com)

See The Rapid City Journal story: http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/article_d6f3ac0e-71c7-11e0-883c-001cc4c002e0.html.