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Chief Federal Judge in Montana Says He’s Not a Racist, Apologizes for Obama Email

Posted Mar 1, 2012 7:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana is acknowledging he sent a racist joke about President Obama’s parentage in an email forwarded to six “old buddies.”

The Great Falls Tribune obtained the email. It reads: "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 apologized for the email, telling the Great Falls Tribune and the Billings Gazette that he is not a racist. He forwarded the text from his office computer on Feb. 20.

The newspapers differ over whether Cebull's brother forwarded him the email, or whether Cebull forwarded it to his brother. The Great Falls Tribune says Cebull got the email from his brother, then forwarded it to his personal email address and six "old buddies."

"To say it's inappropriate and stupid is an extreme understatement," Cebull told the Billings Gazette. “There is no doubt it's racist. It wasn't forwarded for that purpose. If anything, it was political."

Cebull, nominated by President George W. Bush, admits he is not an Obama supporter. He told the Billings Gazette he doesn’t blame people if they think he’s racist, but it’s not true. “The fact is that isn't how I've conducted myself as a federal judge. Never has anybody asserted I was racist," he said.

On Thursday, Cebull reported his conduct to the Judicial Council of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and sent a letter of apology to Obama.

“I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded," Cebull wrote to the president. "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 9th Circuit review this matter. Honestly, I don't know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology.”

Updated on March 2 to report that Cebull has reported his conduct to the 9th Circuit and written to President Obama.

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