South Dakota Documents shed light on suspension

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) -- A suspended circuit court judge in South Dakota is accused of showing a pattern of offensive and demeaning behavior in the courtroom for years.

7th Circuit Judge A.P. "Pete" Fuller said during a recent hearing that he "got caught up in the banter and forgot I was a judge."

Among the allegations in documents and testimony cited by the Black Hills Pioneer and the Rapid City Journal are that Fuller called Rapid City police "racists," that he made an obscene hand gesture to an attorney while behind the bench, that he told a law student "the legal profession was better off before women," and that he called the spot where a painting of Native Americans was displayed as the place "where I hang my Indians."

Fuller's attorney, Tom Nicholson, said concerns were never brought to the judge's attention. Allegations of rude and obscene conduct also are "an exaggeration of the evidence," he said.

Fuller is suspended with pay while the state Supreme Court decides his fate. South Dakota's Judicial Qualifications Commission has recommended that Fuller retire or be removed from the bench. Fuller has asked that he be allowed to return until his scheduled retirement at the end of 2013, when he is 70. He said he has voluntarily taken part in family counseling and anger-management classes.

The 7th Circuit Court includes Fall River, Shannon, Custer and Pennington counties. Fuller has served as a judge since 2003, though Court Administrator Jeff Krattenmaker said Fuller was removed from the judge rotation in all counties but Pennington in 2004 because of problems the judge had with staff.

The original complaint against Fuller involved his alleged comment about the Rapid City Police Department in connection with a case involving an officer who had stopped a car driven by an American Indian who was on probation. Fuller acknowledged in a letter that he made the comment but Nicholson said there is no evidence that it reflected animosity.

"There is a distinct difference between disgust with actions and disgust with individuals," Nicholson wrote in a response to the allegation.

Pennington County State's Attorney Glenn Brenner said he thought Fuller's conduct was enough to warrant a formal complaint.

Other allegations against Fuller arose as the Judicial Qualifications Commission investigated. Many court employees and attorneys described Fuller's behavior as disturbing. Nicholson said many allegations are not documented and are hearsay.

Commission Chairman J. Crisman Palmer said it is the first time in the state's history that the group has asked state Supreme Court justices to remove a judge.

"There have been some complaints filed against judges in a formal sense, but usually there's been a resignation or some resolution," the Rapid City attorney said. "Nothing has gone to a formal proceeding that ended up before the Supreme Court.

"I don't know procedurally how it's going to be done," he said. "Nobody's ever done it."

Published: Mon, Feb 21, 2011