‘No Thanks’ – Bully Judge in SD

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.

“Judge Fuller has not only damaged his judicial office but those of every judge in the state,” Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote for the court in a unanimous opinion.

“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.

About pgbarnes
Attorney at Law

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