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9th Circuit Must Preserve Judge’s Emails

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge ordered the 9th Circuit to ensure the preservation of allegedly racist emails uncovered in an investigation of retired Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.

Pre-complaint petitioners Four Directions, Indian People's Action, Sara Plains Feather and Clifford Bird In Ground asked the court in a November 2014 amended petition to order the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States committee to preserve evidence for anticipated proceedings.

Both Plains Feather and Bird In Ground are former litigants who appeared before Cebull. They say they want to file a "cognizable claim" for potential racially motivated decisions, but cannot because they lack appropriate evidence, including all documents and identification of the people who worked on the investigation, which have not been made public.

In her March 18 order, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said the petitioners failed to adequately explain why they need the names of the investigators, but that preserving the emails is a matter of policy.

"Under the court's discretion, and in the interest of justice, the respondents are ordered to preserve the documents until Jan. 18, 2019, as they have represented they are required to do under applicable judiciary policy provisions."

She noted that the emails at issue would be preserved under the Records Management Provisions in the Guide to Judiciary Policy.

"Given the court's wide discretion, the court finds it appropriate to order that respondents take steps to ensure that they comply with this policy," Gonzalez Rogers wrote.

Cebull became the focus of a March 2013 investigation by the Committee on Judicial Conduct after he sent a racist email disparaging President Barack Obama to Montana reporter John Adams in 2012.

The committee found the complaints against Cebull "well placed," but that no rights had been violated.

The finding prompted Adams and colleague Shane Castle to request access to hundreds of discriminatory emails allegedly disseminated by Cebull from his court-issued email address.

The committee denied them access, however, citing an exemption for the judicial branch under the Freedom of Information Act.

Adams and Castle sued the committee and its executive Cathy Catterson this month, seeking declaratory judgment and an injunction. They say there is no justification for withholding the emails, which they claim are public documents.

Cebull was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001. He reported himself to the 9th Circuit after sending Adams the discriminatory email and was publicly reprimanded after the investigation. He retired in 2013 after serving several months in a limited capacity.

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