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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Mark Fuller: Naked in the Town Square

A historic moment in American journalism might have occurred in recent days.

I don't think an unindicted judge, either federal or state, ever has been laid bare quite the way U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller was last night in a post by Scott Horton, of Harper's.org.

Based on my research, it appears that judicial corruption almost always comes to light only when government authorities initiate investigations. As a general rule, American journalists give judges a huge, unwarranted free pass. A rare exception I am aware of came in 2006 with a major investigation by the Los Angeles Times of judges in Las Vegas.

But Horton hardly gives Fuller a free pass. In fact, he leaves the federal judge--who oversaw the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman--wearing little more than a fig leaf.

We have no evidence that Fuller is under investigation for his handling of the Siegelman case. And as long as Bushies run the Justice Department, Fuller almost certainly will not be investigated. But that doesn't keep Horton from taking a fillet knife to Fuller's carcass and opening him up for all to see.

Here at Legal Schnauzer, we like to think we've played some role in Fuller's exposure. In a series of recent posts, we have shown that Fuller's legal reasoning has more holes than the Miami Dolphins' defensive line. Specifically, we have focused on Fuller's 30-page memorandum opinion that is designed to show why Siegelman should remain in prison pending appeal. But we show that Fuller does just the opposite: The judge's own words reveal clear substantial questions of law and fact that require that Siegelman be freed while his appeal unfolds.

It's reassuring to have someone of Horton's stature join us in taking an extremely dim view of Fuller's handiwork. But Horton does more than that. He adds important context and analysis to the matter. And his investigative work adds new details that put Fuller in an especially unflattering light.

Some highlights from Horton's latest:

* "[The] opinion, which I have examined and shared with several of my lawyer and legal academic colleagues, is farcical, the sort of thing that any judge would be ashamed to allow to see the light of day. . . . It reflects a third-rate legal mind. . . . It fails to provide any meaningful explanation for his decision. The weakness of this document serves further to underscore the now pervasive suspicions of improper motive."

* On the investigative front, Horton reveals intriguing ties between Fuller, the Bush administration, and Alabama's current governor, Republican Bob Riley. You might recall that the day after Siegelman was sentenced, Riley canceled an engagement in Alabama and rushed off to Washington. His explanation? He had to meet with Air Force officials in order to promote the interests of Alabama companies seeking contracts. Horton reports that this explanation was true. And who was to benefit from Riley's efforts. Well, one of the companies pushing at that time for a lucrative contract was Doss Aviation, which is owned by Judge Mark Fuller. Shortly after that, Fuller reports, the Bush administration made a decision that helped Judge Fuller become a very wealthy man--it took steps that led to the Air Force awarding an $18.1 million contract to Doss Aviation.

* And how did Fuller come to be in charge of Doss Aviation? "How he and his family came to operate and then control Doss is, I am told, a fascinating story," Horton writes, "and it has a long track record of extremely murky dealings through the seventies." Hmmm, sounds like more might be coming on that.

* Horton concludes by issuing a call to action: "Congress has the duty to expose misconduct by government actors and misbehaving judges. Ultimately that includes the right to remove them from their sinecures. . . . Congress needs to issue subpoenas requiring the offending parties to appear and submit to questions under oath. It's time to bring this farce to an end and hold those who have dragged our justice system through the mud to account for their misconduct."

I couldn't agree more. But I would take it a step further. At one point, in reference to the Siegelman matter, Horton writes, "The stench from this case just couldn't get any stronger."

Horton is correct. But let's not forget the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, another case involving a blatantly corrupt federal judge. And it has resulted in three innocent men languishing in prison.

And let's remember that the stench does not end with federal courts. Alabama's state courts also emit noxious odors. The recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling overturning a multibillion-dollar verdict against oil giant ExxonMobil is just the most recent example of wrongdoing in our state courts.

My sources tell me they are aware of numerous cases, many involving regular folks, where Alabama's appellate courts allow clearly unlawful trial-court judgments to stand. And how do the appellate courts accomplish this? By abusing the state's no-opinion confirmance rule. That allows them to confirm an unlawful lower-court ruling without issuing an opinion, effectively sweeping judicial corruption under the rug.

I know for sure of one state-court case--mine--where trial and appellate judges have behaved in ways that are straight from the Mark Fuller school. And like Scott Horton, I'm sharpening my fillet knife to lay them bare in the public square.

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