Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chief Federal Judge Steps in It in Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. (CN) - Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana, who forwarded to friends a racist email about President Obama, has asked the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit to review his conduct.

"It's the latest development on this issue," Montana Human Rights Network Executive Director Travis McAdam said. "The judge has asked the 9th Circuit [Court] of Appeals to conduct a judicial review to see if any misconduct has taken place."

The Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit will lead the investigation.

Cebull admitted he forwarded the email on Feb. 20 to six of his "old buddies," who continued forwarding it with Cebull's name still attached to it.

Here is the widely reported email, which was sent from Cebull's official courthouse email address, during work hours: "Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.

"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white? His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"

Cebull, a Billings native, was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001 and has been chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008.

Cebull could not be reached for comment Thursday. His office's voice mailbox was full.

McAdam told Courthouse News that the judge has given no indication that he intends to step down despite calls for his resignation.

McAdam says his group has started an electronic petition demanding that Cebull resign, because of the email's racist and "misogynistic" content.

"The content of this email dehumanizes people of color and women," the petition states. "People of color and women appearing before Judge Cebull will have valid concerns about his ability to treat them fairly. ... This behavior is simply not befitting of a judge."

Appellate Court executive Cathy Catterson told The Associated Press on Thursday that Cebull himself initiated the process for filing a complaint and that the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit will lead the investigation.

Cebull told The Great Falls Tribune that he did not send the email out of racist sentiment, rather because he is "anti-Obama."

"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull told the Tribune. "This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part."

Cebull formally apologized to President Obama, writing: "I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself. I can assure you that such action on my part will never happen again. I have requested that the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit review this matter. Honestly, I don't know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology."

Federal judges are appointed for life. They can be removed by impeachment, in Congress, a step that McAdam acknowledged "would seem pretty far off."

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.