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Federal judge sent hundreds of bigoted emails

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A former Montana judge who was investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths, liberal political leaders, and some emails contained inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

Many of the emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull's court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 15, 2013, order.

The investigation looked at four years of Cebull's personal correspondence sent from his official email account. Investigators also reviewed his past cases and interviewed witnesses.

The investigation found no evidence of bias in Cebull's rulings or sentences, and the witnesses generally regarded him as a "good and honest trial lawyer, and an esteemed trial judge," according to the report.

The 9th Circuit council issued Cebull a public reprimand; ordered no new cases be assigned to him for 180 days; ordered him to complete training on judicial ethics, racial awareness and elimination of bias; and ordered him to issue a second public apology that would acknowledge "the breadth of his behavior."

The panel said impeachment was not warranted because Cebull did not violate federal or state law, though two of the judges on the council said they would have asked for his resignation.

But none of the sanctions took effect and the findings did not become public until Friday on the order of a national judicial review panel.

Cebull announced his resignation March 29, two weeks after the judicial council issued its order.

After Cebull retired May 3, the 9th Circuit council vacated its previous order and wrote a new one calling the complaints against Cebull "moot" because of his retirement.

The panel also omitted details from the original unpublished order about the other emails Cebull had sent.

That prompted Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, to file a petition with the national Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, asking the committee to review the council's work and publish the original March 15 order.

Judge McKee argued that the 9th Circuit council's subsequent rulings inappropriately concealed its original findings.

The 9th Circuit Council told the national review panel in response that it sought only to disclose enough about the investigation to ensure the public knows the matter was taken seriously, and it did not intend to publish the original order.

The national committee ruled that Cebull's retirement only affected the sanctions, but the factual findings and legal conclusions of the investigation must still be published.

"The imperative of transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct," the national judicial panel wrote in its decision.

A phone number listed under Cebull's name was disconnected Friday, and an after-hours phone call to the U.S. District Court in Billings went unanswered.

Cebull himself and 10 others requested the misconduct investigation after The Great Falls Tribune reported Cebull forwarded an email in February 2012 that included a joke about bestiality and Obama's mother. Cebull apologized to Obama after the contents of the email were published.

He told the 9th Circuit panel that his "public shaming has been a life-altering experience" and that he was "acutely aware that each day in my court is the most important day in someone's life."

Cebull was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001. He served as chief judge of the District of Montana from 2008 until 2013.

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tennablake January 18 2014 at 10:53 AM

He is a very siick man.

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1 reply
cwnelson1 tennablake January 18 2014 at 11:18 AM

he may be just an ordinary man and that's troubling in itself.

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Mike January 18 2014 at 9:15 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how so many people on these comment sections really are brainless. How can a US District Court Judge send out hundreds of e-mails, using his official federal e-mail account, with questionable, to say the least, content? As a Federal Court Judge the man is supposed to put aside his "personal" beliefs and rule, and conduct himself, within the rules of law. He is supposed to use only the law as his measuring stick, not his own racial or societal beliefs. I will give this judge credit for resigning and apologizing for his conduct in the face of such over-whelming evidence that he misused his position of authority. His conduct tarnished the position and the Courts.

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1 reply
dethburger Mike January 18 2014 at 9:48 AM

Good comment Mike.

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wayne.johnson555 January 18 2014 at 12:18 PM

Always remember the 11th Commandment: "Thou shall not be Politically Incorrect."

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2 replies
gibby1208 wayne.johnson555 January 18 2014 at 12:23 PM

if you follow the first 10, you don't need the eleventh.

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chris44107 wayne.johnson555 January 18 2014 at 1:18 PM

This isn't about "political correctness". This is about professionalism. If he had been biased against conservatives, I would consider that inappropriate as well.

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sandrakaywinter January 18 2014 at 12:18 PM

Transperancy is a good idea here.

After reading about the groups he disparaged, I must ask: "Who did he like?"

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2 replies
cpcsux sandrakaywinter January 18 2014 at 12:25 PM

Wondering if he liked those to whom he sent the messages too? Do those (assuming) public officials hold the same sentiments and perhaps even allow their personal feelings enter into decisions against those on their list? Good article though I am NOW more concerned with those he trusted enough to communicate his sentiments to. Should I be concerned about the recipients of his memos and their positions as well?

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rockin cain sandrakaywinter January 18 2014 at 12:40 PM

Old white male judges,haha:)

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quazachazed January 18 2014 at 8:44 AM

If he sent them on his own email you can claim freedom of speech. He sent them from his work mail though. That type of behaviour is not appropriate in a work enviroment and he should not be using a work email to send out such things.

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bwillig60 January 18 2014 at 12:35 PM

He was a stupid judge to publish his opinions through an email. One of the contributors' father might have expressed similar views but not in emails. Judges, attorneys, legal clerks, policemen, firemen and EMTs generally know better than to publish these views. When Bull Connor expressed them, emails did not exist. This is not to say he or anyone else could not express opinions on public policies aloud or in emails in any normal way. When you are in the public realm and besmirch part or most of the public, you do the entire public and yourself a grave disservice. Same with teachers and principals.

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hman570 January 18 2014 at 8:26 AM

Sometime it takes a wake up call to see what is happening in our country. I thought that Freedom of speach was a right? I am no scolar by any means, but I think more people should run in politics, (average people not lawyers) It seems that the politicians of today can say and do as they wish without being charged with Bad Conduct. Dump the lawyers in Washington and our State Houses and lets see if things change.

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mnwishbone January 18 2014 at 1:02 PM

He probably hid his thoughts and feelings when doing his job but felt he was safe sending the emails to his friends and colleagues he thought felt the same way but I do not doubt that his feelings did affect how he made decisions in the court.
No different than the cop that appears to be fair when in public but when alone or with others he trusts will discriminate against people they dislike.
It would affect how a judge rules. You would have to look at all the cases he handled in a statistical methodology to try to see it but I am sure it is there. But then again....he is in Montana where there less integration than other parts of the country so it could be hidden pretty well just due to the fewer interactions with his hated groups.

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3 replies
les gilbert January 18 2014 at 8:22 AM

Even the seemingly most level-headed human is subject to emotions that boil up from our primitive past. When we look at the faces of dignified men and women, we see only the thin layer of civilization that the past few thousand years has allowed us to create as a mask. The tribes we all sprang from are ever present in all of us. Rational, thoughts and actions, are often washed aside by the surge of primitive needs, desires, and thoughts. We humans are all animals capable of the most beautiful acts of love, and the most horrible acts of hatred..

As we swim through our lives, we need to be aware that we swim in a pool of illusions filled with sharks that can attack at any time. Most people are not really what they seem to be.

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Douglas January 18 2014 at 9:21 AM

I don't know his background, but judges are often former lawyers. What do you expect?

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