Judge Mark Fuller under fire as domestic violence spotlight widens beyond NFL

US District Judge Mark Fuller was arrested in early August on charges of misdemeanor battery against his wife. At least seven members of the US Congress are calling on him to resign in light of the domestic violence case.

Brant Sanderlin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
US District Court Judge Mark Fuller (l.) waits with attorney Jeff Brickman for his case to be called in Fulton County Court Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 to face charges of misdemeanor battery, in Atlanta.

The scope of public pressure on officials to take a harder line against domestic violence appears to be widening well beyond the National Football League.

One case far from the gridiron receiving increased scrutiny involves a US district judge, Mark Fuller. He was arrested in early August on charges of misdemeanor battery against his wife. Since then, at least seven members of the US Congress have called on him to resign.

Other prominent people have also been adding their voices to a growing awareness of the issue. On Wednesday, TV talk show host Meredith Vieira told her audience about an abusive relationship she endured when she was young, saying she wanted to explain why she stayed – a combination of fear and guilt, thinking she had somehow contributed, she said. Ultimately, it was a job offer in another state that provided her way out.

“We all have to accept the fact that it's not just an issue with the NFL, it's an issue with all of our lives, and until we take it seriously, more and more women are going to get abused,” Ms. Vieira said.

Such statements from public figures represent the kind of serious attention that domestic violence prevention advocates have wanted for years.

“Now all of a sudden we’re talking about it, and I think it is sustainable ... as long as we have folks continuing to ask the question, What does this mean to our society?” says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Denver.

The situation involving Judge Fuller of Montgomery, Ala., illustrates the growing demand for more accountability for domestic violence.

Fuller’s cases have been reassigned, and he has entered a pretrial domestic violence intervention program, which would allow him to avoid prosecution if he completes it. The plea deal was approved Sept. 5 by a judge and with the consent of Fuller’s wife, who had called police when he allegedly beat her at an Atlanta hotel after she accused him of cheating on her, the news site AL.com reports.

US Rep. Terri Sewell (D) of Alabama said he should resign in a social media post Sept. 10. She elaborated in a statement on Tuesday: “No one committing such abusive acts should get a pass. This is especially true for those charged with upholding and enforcing the law.... If an NFL player can lose his job because of domestic violence then a federal judge should definitely not be allowed to keep his life-time appointment to the federal bench.”

The two US senators from Alabama, Richard Shelby (R) and Jeff Sessions (R), also called for Fuller to step down in statements on Wednesday. And US Reps. Robert Aderholt, Spencer Bachus, Mo Brooks, and Bradley Byrne, all Republicans from Alabama, said he should resign immediately, AL.com reported Thursday.

Rep. Martha Roby (R) of Alabama issued a statement Tuesday about the seriousness of domestic violence, adding that there is a disciplinary process in the judicial system that should be allowed to play out.

The disciplinary process could eventually reprimand him, recommend that he resign, or find that his conduct warrants impeachment, Representative Roby noted. If the last option, Congress would have the authority to impeach Fuller.

“I will be monitoring those proceedings closely,” Roby said in her statement. “Domestic abuse cannot be tolerated, explained away or swept under the rug. It must be confronted head on, and abusers must be held accountable. Our sons and daughters are paying attention, and how our society handles this moment matters a great deal.” 

Fuller’s attorney, Barry Ragsdale, did not respond to the Monitor’s request for comment. Reached by the Associated Press, Mr. Ragsdale said he had no comment about the calls for Fuller’s resignation but that Fuller is working through the complaint process that was initiated against him in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As for the NFL, the number of domestic violence-related cases on its plate has been growing. On Wednesday night, the Arizona Cardinals deactivated Jonathan Dwyer, after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. That quick action, however, stands in stark contrast to how the Baltimore Ravens initially handled Ray Rice’s arrest – indicating the power of the public’s demand for more accountability on the issue.

Also on Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings indefinitely benched Adrian Peterson, as he faces child abuse charges in Texas. And the Carolina Panthers decided that Greg Hardy will not play for the team again until a domestic violence case that he is appealing is resolved. 

Amid the pressure to hold men more accountable for violence against women, “there is space for someone to be redeemed,” Ms. Glenn says – and, she hopes, to eventually tell their own stories of overcoming patterns of violent behavior.

To understand what one has done to gain power and control in an abusive relationship, and to make a serious change, “doesn’t happen overnight, “ she says. “It’s not anger management or [short-term] counseling. It’s intensive treatment addressing the inner you.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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