A statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville Fuller on Sept. 12 at the old Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. Protesters said that they didn’t put the stickers on Fuller’s forehead. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA – Though he later said he should have gotten all the information before he jumped to conclusions, Robert Fuller Jr. sent a letter to organizers of a demonstration opposed to a statue he paid to have erected at the Kennebec County courthouse, accusing them of vandalizing the monument.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has asked Kennebec County officials to consider moving the statue of former Supreme Court Justice Melville Fuller from outside the Kennebec County Courthouse. County commissioners have taken no action to take the statue down, but are working to vet Melville’s past, according to Commissioner Patsy Crocket.

Reached for comment Wednesday, when presented with information from Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason that the protestors were not responsible for stickers placed on the statue, Fuller Jr. said he was glad to know the organizers didn’t have anything to do with it. While he declined to go on the record, Fuller Jr. noted he should have made sure he had all the information before making the claim.

He referred questions to attorney Stephen Smith of Augusta-based law firm Lipman & Katz.

In the letter he sent to protest organizers, Fuller Jr. referred to the “defacement of the forehead” of the statue “by red paint or some other substance.”

“I am compelled to conclude that one of their number was responsible for this impertinent juvenile act,” he wrote. “I am confident it did nothing to advance their cause. I am further confident that the perpetrator’s parents will be embarrassed to learn of their child’s senseless rude behavior.”

“The protesters, no matter how just their cause may be, learned nothing from the lessons taught by Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King,” Fuller Jr. added. “These gentlemen knew obtaining their laudable objectives were far better achieved by peaceable means. These turned the tide of public opinion in their favor rather than shameful destructive actions.”

But his assumption the protestors were responsible was incorrect, a fact confirmed by Mason, who said the stickers were placed on the statue at night at the same time others were placed in other spots in that area.

“It was during the night when the drive-by stickering occurred, and there is no crime involved in the incident,” Mason said. “The perpetrators also stickered the parking signs on the Winthrop Street side of the courthouse.”

He said there was no way to identify the culprits, but the county is upgrading the camera on the front of the courthouse building.

Protesters hold signs during a rally Sept. 12 at the old Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. People gathered at the corner of State and Winthrop streets to demand the removal of a statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville Fuller. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Michael Mosley, part of the Maine Against Systemic Racism group that organized the protest, responded to Fuller’s initial assumption they were responsible for the stickers.

“Robert G. Fuller Jr. didn’t even do enough due diligence to know he wasn’t speaking about a bunch of teenagers, but he is a supposed legal scholar,” he said. “No one defaced anything.

“Admittedly, we had Justice Fuller assist us in displaying some flags,” Mosley added. “We also believe that’s the most helpful act he’s ever accomplished while seated as a judge.”

Other people Mosley noted were part of the core organizing team included Brittany Grant, Beth Newman and Patrick Webber.

Fuller Jr. issued a statement Friday that ran counter to his message to protest organizers from earlier in the week, saying he was “delighted at the conduct exhibited by the participants in last Saturday’s protest at the statue of my ancestor Melville Weston Fuller.”

“Not only did they secure permission from the Augusta Police Department to hold the protest, but they also refrained from defacing the statue, all in contrast to the recent actions of others outside of Maine who have protested other issues,” Fuller Jr. said in his statement. “I firmly believe in the protection afforded to all citizens to exercise their First Amendment right of free speech. I encourage others who wish to speak out on this controversial issue to do so in a similar civil manner.”

Mosley said Fuller Jr. had also reached out personally to apologize.

In the letter he sent to protest organizers, Fuller Jr. also noted that his family has been public in speaking out against the Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

“Three generations of the lawyers in my family have publicly disavowed the odious decision in Plessy which condemned African-Americans to second-class citizens for over half a century and in which my ancestor unfortunately joined the majority opinion,” he wrote. “We have endeavored to remove this blot on the family legal escutcheon by our professional and personal conduct. Whether we have succeeded is for others to judge.”

The statue of Melville Fuller, who served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen Aug. 11 in front of the old Kennebec County courthouse on the corner of State and Winthrop streets in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Fuller Jr. also said the statue was not meant to “perpetuate Plessy” but “create what today is called a ‘teachable moment’ inviting the public (the judiciary included) to form an opinion not inflamed by momentary passions but maturely arrived at based on the entire record of my ancestor rather than on one opinion alone.”

Mosley said Fuller Jr. “literally put Chief Justice Melville Fuller on a pedestal.”

“He paid $40,000 to physically manifest this concept. The Honorable Chief Justice Melville Fuller seated at the bench atop a pedestal before the steps of the Court of Wealth (because that is what the Probate court is),” Mosley said. “And yet, we are to believe that such a symbolic act was not meant to be a positive reflection on his legacy? Nor are we to draw any parallels between such a symbolic act and the systemic oppression that figure orchestrated on Black bodies and the damage it caused to Black prosperity in this nation?”

Asked if Fuller Jr. had any conversations with Kennebec County officials about potentially moving the statue, Smith said he has been tasked with handling “any such conversations with any interested official.” He also said Fuller has had no conversations with any court officials.

Whether Fuller Jr. will take any action if county officials decide to remove the statue from the courthouse is still unknown.

“My client is considering all his options and has not settled on any particular course of action,” Smith said.

Fuller Jr. retained his services, Smith said, because “In this day and age everything is political and the opportunities to be misquoted or misrepresented on such sensitive topics are legion.”

“Mr. Fuller’s desire is to create a record which is clear and unambiguous,” Smith said.

As for the request to remove the statue, Smith said Fuller Jr. believes “any appraisal” of the former chief justice’s “record should be based not on one decision but instead on his entire body of work.”

“He (Robert Fuller Jr.) has always agreed that Plessy was an insensitive and indefensible decision, Smith said, noting a September 2012 interview his client gave on C-SPAN. “You should read two Supreme Court civil rights opinions where Fuller came down on the side which would today surely be deemed ‘politically correct.’”

The opinions Smith cited were Fong Yue Ting v. U.S., “in which Fuller vigorously defended the rights of Chinese laborers imported to work in the United States” and Jones v. Meehan, in which Fuller “protected Native Americans by holding that Congress could not take away the property rights of the indigenous tribes.”


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