Chandler judge demoted for ‘problematic’ behavior - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler judge demoted for ‘problematic’ behavior

December 31st, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Chandler judge demoted for ‘problematic’ behavior

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler City Council has demoted presiding City Magistrate David Fuller after an investigation sustained allegations that he behaved inappropriately round his subordinates.
In reaction to an internal inquiry that found some of Fuller’s workplace actions “problematic,” Council amended the judge’s contract to strip him of his title and reassign him to work under a new presiding magistrate.
City Court Judge Alicia Skupin was promoted to replace Fuller as the acting presiding magistrate until her contract expires in June.
Skupin and Fuller essentially switched positions since Fuller will continue working as one of the other magistrates helping to adjudicate traffic tickets, code violations and petty crimes.
Council has the option to appoint a new presiding judge before Skupin’s contract ends and the city plans to start the recruitment process for a permanent replacement soon. Fuller’s new contract is set to expire at the end of June.
As part of the contract amendments, Fuller’s salary was reset at $166,000 and Skupin will now be paid $175,000.
The shakeup was the result of a complaint by Nicole Countryman, a former City Court commissioner, who accused Fuller of threatening and retaliating against her.
Countryman, who is Black, filed a $2-million claim against the city in November that alleged she was subject to racial discrimination before her employment in Chandler ended in September.
The city hired a Scottsdale law firm to investigate Countryman’s complaint and interview the court’s staff.
According to a summary of the firm’s findings, investigators were unable to substantiate Countryman’s racial allegations but concluded Fuller may have mistreated some of his employees.
Witnesses told investigators Fuller’s behavior was “angry” and “paranoid” during a staff meeting on March 20, when he accused the court’s other magistrates of meeting behind his back to plot against him.
“Fuller’s allegedly unpleasant behavior was broadly directed at numerous people,” investigators wrote. “Several female employees reported feeling that Fuller treated women with disrespect or in a demeaning manner.”
Countryman said her relationship with Fuller began to deteriorate around the time of the March 20 meeting because she felt Fuller was not taking enough precautions to protect court staff from COVID-19.
Countryman alleged Fuller’s attitude toward her worsened after she filed a complaint against another court employee with the city’s Human Resources Department.
Countryman claimed Fuller started making her work on weekends and forfeit some of her vacation time.
The investigators could not find evidence of Fuller retaliating against Countryman because their workplace problems seemed to have started before she had filed her complaint with the city.
“Fuller’s allegedly discourteous behavior was not focused on Commissioner Countryman but rather was directed toward a wide array of people,” investigators wrote.
Fuller told investigators Countryman stopped speaking to him after he attempted to advise her on how to dismiss cases involving speeding tickets. Fuller claimed Countryman rejected his instructions and proceeded to work at her own discretion.
Fuller further suspected city officials of trying to oust him so Countryman could take his job – an assertion that investigators called “speculative.”
The investigation found that Fuller treated female employees differently by giving them tasks that felt “demeaning” and beneath their education level.
Women told investigators Fuller would often support ideas made by male employees but not those from females. One court employee claimed Fuller commented on her physical size and eating habits, which Fuller denied.
“It is significant that Fuller’s interactions with so many women were problematic,” the report states.
Fuller was appointed to preside over the Chandler court in June 2019 after serving as assistant director of Phoenix’s Office of Court Appointed Attorneys and working as an assistant prosecutor for the Town of Gilbert.
His work history has not turned up any other known instances of workplace misconduct and the Arizona Bar Association has not taken any disciplinary action against Fuller since he joined the Bar in 1990.