We don't have precise numbers on that question, but our research indicates a case like the one involving Fuller--who announced on Friday he is stepping down, effective August 1--happens only about once a decade, in what might be called "the modern era."
For some broad historical perspective, we turn to a 1993 study titled "Why Judges Resign: Influences on Federal Judicial Service (1789 to 1992)." It states:
This study focuses on the 188 judges who, over the last 200 years, resigned from the bench for stated reasons other than age or health.
That study was conducted 22 years ago, and it showed a rate of less than one federal-judicial resignation per year. According to my math, if you draw that rate out to 2015, you get 207.68 resignations in American history. (My math can be iffy; that's why I was a journalism major. Feel free to correct my numbers in the comment section.)
A 2012 law-review article from the University of Pennsylvania brings us closer to the current day, focusing on the years 1970 to 2009. It also looks at judges who resigned in that 40-year period over allegations of misconduct. Here is what we find out, with some gory details included:
Four judges resigned after allegations of misconduct. Otto Kerner and Herbert Fogel resigned in the 1970s. In 1993, Robert Collins was convicted of bribery and imprisoned; he resigned after an impeachment resolution was introduced in Congress. In 2008, Edward Nottingham resigned in the midst of a Tenth Circuit investigation into allegations that he had told a prostitute to lie about the nature of their relationship.
Another intriguing case from the 40-year period involved impeachment, retirement, and resignation over allegations of misconduct. It apparently does not count as a strict resignation, but the allegations were dandies:
In 2009, Judge Samuel Kent was convicted and imprisoned on charges stemming from sexual misconduct with two subordinates. Although ineligible for a pension, he initially attempted to claim retirement on disability, which the Fifth Circuit denied. After his impeachment, Judge Kent attempted to submit a resignation to take effect a year later; when Congress proceeded toward trial, he resigned effective June 30, 2009.
Fuller's resignation will take effect almost exactly one year after his arrest for battery of his wife in an Atlanta hotel room last summer. The beating reportedly grew from an argument that started when Fuller's wife accused him of having an extramarital affair with a law clerk.
We've had four federal-judicial resignations over a 40-year period, so that makes the math pretty easy (even for a journalism major)--cases like the one involving Mark Fuller happen about once every 10 years, in what we will call the "modern era."
What judge does Fuller most resemble in relatively recent history? Our vote would go with the notorious Samuel Kent, from the Southern District of Texas. Here is what Above the Law wrote about the august Judge Kent in 2009:
Will he stay or will he go? For the longest time, Judge Samuel Kent (S.D. Tex.), the federal judge who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with his molestation of two female court employees, has been playing games about his departure from the bench. But now he has finally raised the white flag, resigning effective on Tuesday, June 30.
The Houston Chronicle provides more details about the Kent case. His chief accuser was a woman named Cathy McBroom:
The odds favored her silence.
Cathy McBroom, a twice-married federal court case manager with a high school degree versus a formidable federal judge, a towering mercurial man who ruled like a king over Galveston’s lone U.S. court.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent seemed untouchable, appointed by a U.S. president, approved by Congress to serve for a lifetime. His sentencing Monday — two years after McBroom first accused him of attempting to sexually assault her — brought both vindication and sorrow. . . .
Kent admitted to sexually molesting both McBroom and his former secretary Donna Wilkerson and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to judges who investigated his misconduct. Wilkerson came forward after the judge’s first indictment in August. . . .
[McBroom] said the incident that prompted her to action — though it was not the first time Kent attempted to assault her — came in March 2007 when McBroom was summoned to Kent’s Galveston chambers. She says the judge, a foot taller and 150 pounds heavier, forced his mouth on her breast and pushed her head toward his crotch with an explicit and obscene oral order. She fled in tears.
It was a crime, she thought. Yet calling the cops seemed unthinkable.
“I felt like as a federal judge, he had everyone in his back pocket. Who could I report this to?”
Congratulations, Mark Fuller. You will go down in judicial infamy with Judge Samuel Kent. That is some "fine company," indeed.