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January 19, 2014

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


The findings were released Friday.

A special committee reviewed Cebull’s e-mail archives, which date back to 2008, and found that he had expressed disdain for black Americans, Latinos, women and various religious faiths.

The committee organized the emails into categories that ranged from “race-related emails that showed disdain for African Americans and Hispanics, especially those who are not in the United States legally,” to “emails related to pending legislation or an issue that could come before the courts, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care or environmental matters.”

Nowhere in the 37-page memorandum of decision does it say how many of Cebull’s e0mails included bigotry. Nor does the panel specifically quote any emails, other than the original Obama e-mail from February 2012.

But, the findings say, the “majority of emails were political in nature,” with a “significant number” of race-related emails.

“The racist and political February 2012 e-mail, particularly when coupled with the hundreds of other e-mails regularly sent from Judge Cebull’s court e-mail account, reflects negatively on Judge Cebull and on the judiciary and undermines the public trust and confidence in the judiciary,” the council said.

In sending the emails, the council found, Cebull violated canons 2 and 5 of the judicial code of conduct, which state that a judge “should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” and is prohibited from political activity.

When the committee interviewed him, Cebull “acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and did not attempt to minimize or explain away the February 2012 e-mail,” the findings said.

“Public shaming (in reaction to the e-mail) has been a life-altering experience,” he told the committee.

Although Cebull acknowledged his history of inappropriate e-mails, he emphasized that all the messages were intended as private communication.

In interviews with more than 25 people in Montana, many of whom were in Cebull’s professional or social circles, witnesses generally “regarded Cebull as a good and honest trial lawyer and an esteemed trial judge,” the findings say.

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