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Federal judge sent hundreds of inappropriate emails before racist-joke probe, opinion says

Posted Jan 21, 2014 9:31 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge who retired after forwarding a racist joke about President Obama sent hundreds of inappropriate emails over a four-year period, according to an ethics panel opinion released on Friday.

Former Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana sent hundreds of emails related to race, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation, politically sensitive issues and topics that were inappropriate to send from his federal email account, according to the March 15 order (PDF) by the Judicial Council of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 9th Circuit judicial council found no evidence of bias, however, in Cebull’s conduct toward others, in his rulings or in his sentencing practices. Witnesses generally regarded him as “an esteemed trial judge," the opinion said.

The Great Falls Tribune and the Associated Press have stories.

The majority of the inappropriate emails were political in nature, the March 15 order said.

"Whether they were cast as jokes or serious commentary, the emails showed disdain and disrespect for liberal political leaders,” according to the order. “A significant number of emails were race related. Whether cast as jokes or serious commentary, the emails showed disdain and disrespect for African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics, especially those who are not in the United States legally. A similarly significant number of emails related to religion and showed disdain for certain faiths. Approximately the same number of emails concerned women and/or sexual topics and were disparaging of women. A few emails contained inappropriate jokes relating to sexual orientation. Finally, a large number of 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.”

The March 15 order was released as a result of decision by the Committee on Conduct and Disability of the U.S. Judicial Conference. After Cebull’s retirement in May, the 9th Circuit judicial council had vacated its order as moot and replaced it with a July 2 order that “omitted many salient details,” according to the Committee on Conduct and Disability.

The original complaint was spurred by this email, sent by Cebull to six friends: “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. 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!’ ”

Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sought the release of the March 15 order.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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