EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

January 19, 2014

ex-Montana federal judge sent hundreds of prejudiced e-mails, panel finds

A former chief federal judge in Montana who retired after forwarding a racist e-mail about President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his court e-mail account, according to judicial review panel findings released Friday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull admitted in 2012 that he had sent the e-mail appearing to equate the president and black Americans with dogs and raising questions about Obama’s biracial ancestry.

In the e-mail, a boy asks his mother why he is black and she is white. His mother replies, “Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”

The Great Falls Tribune, which initially obtained the e-mail and interviewed Cebull about it, was the first to publish an article on Feb. 29, 2012. The story triggered mass media coverage, public outrage and judicial investigations.

The controversy spurred Cebull to apologize to the president. “I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family.... I have no one to blame but myself,” he wrote in spring 2012.

After an investigation of Cebull, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Judicial Council issued an order on March 15, 2013, which included a reprimand and a requirement that he make a second apology acknowledging “the breadth of his behavior.” The order and the panel’s findings were not made public at the time.

He announced his retirement two weeks later, and left the bench on May 3. Then the 9th Circuit declared the issue moot.

But another federal judge, Theodore McKee of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, objected, accusing the council of concealing Cebull’s misconduct.

A national judicial council reviewed the proceedings and determined that the findings should be published. “The imperative transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct,” the panel wrote.

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