Judicial Watch announced that it filed a lawsuit on behalf of former Virginia Magistrate Elizabeth Fuller against officials in the Office of the Executive Secretary of Magistrate Services for firing Fuller in violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights (Elizabeth Fuller v. Karl R. Hade, et al. (No. 1:22-cv-00218)).
On October 19, 2021, Fuller was fired from her position as magistrate after commenting to the Alexandria Times as part of a discussion about the publicly available outcome of her own 2020 complaint against a bondsman named Man Nguyen.
Ibrahm Elkahi Bouaichi was arrested and indicted by a grand jury on or about January 13, 2020, for burglary with the intent to commit murder, abduction, sodomy, strangulation, and rape of Karla Elizabeth Dominguez Gonzalez. Notwithstanding the seriousness of these charges, the Alexandria Circuit Court released Bouaichi on a $25,000 bond in April 2020. Less than four months after his release on bail, Bouaichi, on July 29, 2020, reportedly drove to Ms. Dominguez’ residence in Alexandria, Virginia and shot and killed her outside her apartment complex. The lawsuit alleges:
In the immediate days following the news reports about Ms. Dominguez’ murder, Plaintiff learned from a police officer in the citizen lobby of the magistrate’s office that the vehicle and gun reportedly used by Bouaichi to murder Ms. Dominquez belonged to the surety bail bondsman, Man Nguyen, who posted the $25,000 bond for Bouaichi’s release in April 2020. On information and belief, bondsman Nguyen and the officer struck casual conversation while they were waiting in the citizens lobby when Nguyen said it was his gun and car that Bouaichi used to murder Ms. Dominguez, and that he had let Bouaichi stay at his house while he was away on vacation. The officer subsequently relayed the information to Plaintiff as part of casual conversation among friendly colleagues, outside any hearing or proceeding.
On August 6, 2020, Fuller, in her personal capacity, filed a complaint with the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, alleging that Nguyen violated rules and regulations of his licensure as a surety bail bondsman. On September 1, 2020, Nguyen’s surety bail bond license was suspended and revoked as a result. Fuller understood that this concluded the matter.
More than a year later, the Alexandria Times disclosed information it obtained through a Freedom of Information request regarding Nguyen’s involvement, as well as Fuller’s complaint, and subsequently approached Fuller for comment in October 2021. Fuller commented as follows:
- Nguyen came to work in the days following the murder nearly boasting and joking about the fact that the gun and car belonged to him and that Bouaichi had stayed at his home.
- “[Bondsman Nguyen] was telling this officer about what happened and almost bragging about it. The officer said to me, ‘You will never believe what he just said to me.’” “So I said, ‘I’ve got to do something about it.’”
Five days after this story was published on October 7, Fuller was placed on administrative leave and she was fired on October 19, 2021.
It was then claimed that Fuller had violated Canon 3, Section B(6) that states: “[a] magistrate shall abstain from public comment about a pending, impending or concluded proceeding in any court or magistrate’s office.”
In early November 2021, Fuller filed a grievance appealing her termination and asked for reinstatement, which was denied.
Judicial Watch argues that Fuller’s firing was retaliation for protected speech and that the judicial canon used to justify her firing doesn’t apply to comments made about a public filing made in her personal capacity about a concluded matter:
At all relevant times, [Fuller] was engaged in constitutionally protected speech when she made the comments to the Alexandria Times, which undeniably addressed matters of public concern.
Plaintiff enjoys the right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This includes the right to comment to the Alexandria Times on Plaintiff’s public complaint filed in her personal capacity about the misconduct of a bondsman and its outcome, and the system’s failure to protect a rape victim.
“An innocent woman is dead because she was murdered by a rapist who was let out of jail. And so the Virginia court fires the magistrate who blew the whistle on the court bondsman whose misconduct enabled this murder?” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Ms. Fuller is a hero, and she lost her job in violation of her constitutional rights because she embarrassed Virginia officials over their deadly soft-on-crime bail policies.”