Saturday, October 30, 2010

Case delayed
Friends, colleagues shocked by judge's suspension
StoryDiscussionFriends, colleagues shocked by judge's suspension
By Mary Garrigan Journal staff | Posted: Saturday, October 9, 2010 8:00 am | (5) Comments

Font Size:Default font sizeLarger font size.Suspended 7th Circuit Judge A.P. Fuller's Friday court docket was posted on a Pennington County Courthouse bulletin board right next to a notice stating "Judge Thorstenson will preside over Judge Fuller's cases from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. this morning in Courtroom 1."

Many in the local legal community expressed amazement at Fuller's suspension on Wednesday by the South Dakota Supreme Court, pending an investigation into allegations that he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The order was signed Wednesday, and on Thursday some of Fuller's cases were handled by Judge Thomas Trimble without explanation of Fuller's absence. Presiding Circuit Judge Jeff Davis wouldn't comment Friday on the specifics of Fuller's caseload, but said he expected Fuller's six fellow judges could handle the increased workload.

"We've got a good group of judges here. We'll try our best to minimize the impact on the system," Davis said. Fuller's absence doesn't directly affect courthouses in Custer or Hot Springs because he was not on a travel assignment.

But rescheduled hearings and delayed trials will be inevitable for Rapid City lawyers and their clients, said Rapid City attorney Rich Huffman.

"Anytime you go from seven to six judges handling caseloads, rescheduling is going to be difficult with other judges who have busy schedules," Huffman said. But he didn't expect those delays to compromise justice in the 7th Circuit.

"I'm confident our judges will handle it. We'll be in good shape."

Attorney Gregory Yates has numerous Native American clients who are suing multiple defendants in a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit that includes the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City and the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus. Given the complexity of the lawsuits and multiple parties involved, Yates is concerned that justice delayed may be justice denied for his clients. Fuller is the assigned judge in all those related cases, which have a long and complicated legal history.

"It could jeopardize it by delaying it, because someone's going to have to spend a lot of time coming up to speed," Yates said. "And these cases have been delayed far too much."

Both Huffman and Yates had high praise for Fuller as a judge. "From the cases I had with him, he went to great lengths ... to give people a day in court," Huffman said.

Yates said he had no reason to question Fuller's judicial qualifications. "Judge Fuller has been a really fine judge, whenever I've been in front of him," Yates said.

Fuller maintains residences in Rapid City and Lead, where friends and neighbors were astounded by his suspension.

"I'm totally at a loss as to what is going on," said Tim Johns, a former circuit judge who is Fuller's neighbor in Lead. "I personally think a lot of him. He's a good guy. It totally takes me aback. I'm flabbergasted."

Before he was appointed to the 7th Circuit Court in 2003, Fuller practiced law in Lead with various partners, including John Delaney, who now sits on the 7th Circuit bench with Fuller. One of his clients was the Homestake Mining Co. and his wife is the former mayor of Lead. When named to the judiciary by former Gov. Bill Janklow, Fuller was practicing law with Roger Tellinghuisen, a former South Dakota attorney general.

Rapid City businessman Bill Fleming has known Fuller since the early 1980s when they both lived in Lead. He calls Fuller an excellent lawyer who "became a close personal friend of mine, as well as as good a lawyer as you'll ever need."

Fleming said he was "totally surprised" by the news of his suspension. "I have no idea what's going on," he said. He sent Fuller a supportive note, but didn't ask him to explain. "I sent him an e-mail and told him I love him. He's like a brother to me."

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