Panel says Cebull sent hundreds of inappropriate emails

2014-01-17T16:13:00Z 2014-12-09T15:10:04Z Panel says Cebull sent hundreds of inappropriate emailsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 17, 2014 4:13 pm  • 

A federal judicial panel investigating former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull over a racist email involving President Barack Obama found the judge sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages.

The Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found emails that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, religious faiths and some with inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation.

The council's March 2013 order reprimanding Cebull was released for the first time Friday by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Cebull retired May 3.

An order from a panel of federal judges after his retirement on the findings of a misconduct investigation into U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull was moot because the judge resigned.

The 9th Circuit council condemned Cebull's email practices and ordered him to issue a second public apology. The panel also evaluated Cebull's record on the bench, examining his sentencing. It found no fault with his treatment of cases.

However, it found that Cebull had violated canons 2 and 5 of the judicial code of conduct, which mandates that a judge "should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety" and is prohibited from political activity.

An email search of the former judge's account dated back to 2008. The judicial council said it found hundreds of questionable email sent from the court email account. The emails were identified by categories that included:

  • "Showed disdain and disrespect for liberal political leaders"
  • Race-related emails that "showed disdain for African Americans and Hispanics, especially those who are not in the United States legally"
  • "Emails related to religion (that) showed disdain for certain faiths"
  • "Emails concern(ing) women and/or sexual topics and were disparaging of women"
  • "Emails contain(ing) inappropriate jokes relating to sexual orientation"
  • "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."

While the panel said it found hundreds of emails that fit these categories, nowhere in the 35-page release does it give a precise number.

A special judicial review committee of the 9th Circuit Court also traveled to Montana to conduct interviews with more than 25 witnesses, including court staff and social acquaintances of Cebull.

"The witnesses' statements were generally consistent and in the aggregate there was praise for Judge Cebull's conduct on the bench," the report states. "A few witnesses commented that given the small number of judges in the District of Montana and the close-knit legal community, lawyers might be reluctant to make negative comments about Judge Cebull, even anonymously."

The report notes that in some cases, Cebull appeared to go out of the way to make accommodations for some groups.

"A number of witnesses who were friendly with Judge Cebull commented that they thought he made extra efforts to be fair and accommodate Native Americans, including regularly approving their request to conduct traditional rituals while incarcerated," the report said. 

The committee also looked at Cebull's cases, paying attention to sentencing practices, civil rights cases and appeals. The U.S. Sentencing Commission provided detailed information on Cebull's practices, dating back to 2005. 

"The special committee thoroughly examined Judge Cebull's sentencing practices with respect to particular crimes and ethnic groups, and found no evidence of bias against nonwhite defendants."

When the special judicial review committee met with Cebull, he "acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and did not attempt to minimize or explain it away."

When discussing it, he told the committee that "his 'public shaming has been a life-altering experience.'"

Before retiring, Cebull sent an apology to President Barack Obama, traveled to every division of the District of Montana and met with court staff to apologize for his actions.

Cebull began his judicial career first as a magistrate judge in Great Falls from 1998 to 2001, then as a district judge beginning in July 2001. He was nominated for the district judgeship in the Billings division by President George W. Bush. Cebull served as chief judge from 2008 until March, when he went on senior status.

Before becoming a judge, Cebull worked in private practice with a Billings firm, Brown, Gerbase, Fulton, Harman & Ross, from 1972 to 1997.

Born in Billings and raised in Roundup, Cebull received a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University in 1966 and a law degree from the University of Montana in 1969.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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