The decision of whether a Rapid City based circuit court judge should keep his job or be removed from the bench is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Judge A.P Fuller was suspended from court last year, and a six-month investigation of his conduct brought the Judicial Qualifications Commission to recommend that he be forced to retire or removed as a judge.
This is the first time in the history of South Dakota that a judge has faced removal from the bench by the state Supreme Court. The qualifications commission found that Fuller's conduct was demeaning and disrespectful to court personnel, attorneys and those on trial. However, Fuller wants to stay on the bench, and that's why the decision is now up to the Supreme Court.
Fuller was in tears as he addressed the Justices of the Supreme Court in a hearing that will essentially decide if he keeps his job as a judge.
"My conduct and actions have affected people I love and those I respect. I am totally remorseful for what I have done," Fuller said.
Fuller told the justices he has sought profession help to alleviate his questionable conduct and language and he is now a better person. For that, he asked to keep his job.
But the attorney representing the Judicial Qualifications Commission says Fuller should be removed after years of questionable activities such as flipping the bird at an attorney, calling police officers a group of racists and using a derogatory name when discussing a person on trial.
"The judiciary is one of the last bastions in our country that still maintains respect of the citizens, and if it's to be held in that high regard, which I think it should be, conduct like this can't be dismissed," Michael Schaffer said.
Fuller and the attorney representing him say he's written letters of apology to all those he's affected. The attorney says Fuller would have changed his way years ago had someone told him his actions were out of line.
"I think that what you can see what he is being accused of truly was behavior that is absolutely inappropriate. It's absolutely inappropriate; it was never dealt with by anyone," attorney Jack Hieb said.
But the qualifications commission says that's not true.
"He got feedback. When deputy clerks run out of the court crying tears because of how you treat them, that's feedback. And when they refuse to come back into court because of how you treated them, that's feedback," Shaffer said.
Both sides of the issue told the Justices they didn't want to be in this position and acknowledged the Justices decision will have an impact on Judges across the state, leaving the Justices with much to consider.
"Judge Fuller has engaged in a pattern of misconduct showing an utter lack of courtesy and total disrespect to court personnel over a period of years," Shaffer said.
"I promise and I will not bring further disrespect or shame to the profession or to this court," Fuller said.
The Justices did not have to render a decision right away. Now they'll review all of the hearings leading up to this point before deciding the future of Fuller. Click on the video player below to watch Fuller's statement to the Justices.