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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Probe Reveals More Inappropriate Emails

BOZEMAN, Mont. (CN) - A former Montana judge who apologized for sending a racist email about President Barack Obama from his court email account sent hundreds of other inappropriate emails from that account, a judicial review panel found.

A report released Friday by the federal Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability states that former Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull received and forwarded "hundreds of inappropriate email messages," including many that disparaged liberal politicians, minorities, certain religions, women and the gay community. He also sent "emails related to pending legislation or an issue that could come before the court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care or environmental matters."

Cebull's email account came under scrutiny after local and national media learned about an email containing a bestiality joke about Obama that Cebull had forwarded to six acquaintances from his federal email account.

The judge, facing heavy pressure to resign, wrote a letter of apology to the president. He also asked the 9th Circuit to launch a misconduct inquiry into the incident.

A special investigating committee acted on Cebull's own complaint and 11 others, including one from 3rd Circuit Chief Judge Theodore McKee.

On March 15, 2013, the 9th Circuit Judicial Council issued an order detailing the investigation's findings and sanctioning Cebull. The Montana judge was issued a public remand; barred from taking cases for 180 days; and ordered him to complete training on judicial ethics, racial awareness and elimination of bias.

The order also condemned his public apology as "insufficient to acknowledge fully or redress his past actions and the totality of his discriminatory emails."

Two members of the council added that they thought Cebull should be asked to retire.

The special committee found no evidence of bias in Cebull's rulings or sentencing, however, and no cases that it deemed "troubling." It noted that witnesses "generally regarded Judge Cebull as a good and honest trial lawyer, and an esteemed trial judge."

Though the March 15 order was slated for publication on May 17, the judicial council found the order moot in light of Cebull's retirement on May 3. It vacated its March 15 order and issued a new order on July 2 that dismissed the complaints as moot. This new order left out nearly two pages of descriptions regarding the number and nature of Cebull's emails. His emails were simply characterized as "inappropriate."

Judge McKee sought review of the new order, expressing concern that it "effectively conceals the judicial misconduct that previously had been identified and detailed."

A review panel of the U.S. Judicial Conference agreed that the 9th Circuit Judicial Council should not have viewed Cebull's retirement as an "intervening event" that rendered the first order moot.

"Because Judge Cebull's retirement came after the adjudication of the merits, it was not literally 'intervening,'" the panel explained.

It adopted and published the March 15 order "as the final order disposing of Judge Cebull's and Judge McKee's complaints on the merits."

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