Two ranking Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee called Tuesday for a hearing on the actions of Montana Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who apologized last week for forwarding a racist email "joke" about President Barack Obama from his chambers.

In a letter Tuesday to Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said a hearing would allow the committee to consider "the full ramifications of Judge Cebull's conduct on the integrity of the federal judiciary" and to consider whether further action is necessary.

The committee has a duty "to investigate the potential consequences of Judge Cebull's conduct independent of whatever it is that the Ninth Circuit concludes," Conyers and Cohen said in their letter.

Judicial misconduct complaints against Cebull have mounted and calls for his resignation continued since he apologized publicly and in a letter to the president.

After the incident was reported in newspapers, the judge asked for a review by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Montana Human Rights Network filed a formal complaint against Cebull with the 9th Circuit on Monday and asked for his resignation.

"Judge Cebull is no longer fit to serve the people of Montana as a district court judge, and we petition this body to ask Judge Cebull to voluntarily resign from his position," said Travis McAdam, the organization's executive director.

Outrage about Cebull's conduct continued across the country, with the National Bar Association, an organization of about 20,000 minority lawyers and judges, and The New York Times also calling for the judge's resignation.

Cebull admitted he forwarded to several friends in February an offensive email "joke" about President Obama. The email contained content that referred to Obama's mother and bestiality.

Cebull said he is not a racist and that the email was more of a political statement. Cebull apologized for his "lack of judgment."

In a Monday editorial, The New York Times said Cebull should step down.

While giving Cebull credit for apologizing, The New York Times went on to editorialize: "His dislike of the president is so strong, apparently, he could not resist the urge to violate his ethical duty to avoid intemperate conduct that suggests racial and political bias and an appearance, at least, of impropriety."

Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, filed the first complaint against Cebull last Thursday. A separate complaint also was lodged Monday by Lamar C. Chapman III, an individual in Oak Brook, Ill., apparently acting on his own.

Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said in the group's complaint that concerns about Cebull "cannot be quelled with an apology."

Cebull's email gives "strong reason" to question his impartiality with "people of color, people of mixed race or heritage, and people in interracial relationships," McAdam said in the complaint.

The email's sexist and political references further call into question Cebull's ability to preside over cases involving women and Obama administration policies, the network's complaint said.

McAdam said the network has collected more than 1,600 signatures on an online petition seeking the judge's resignation. The Helena-based group has about 1,400 members.

The National Bar Association refused Cebull's apology and called for his resignation.

Daryl D. Parks, the organization's president, said in a statement that Cebull's "sensitivity to issues and matters as it relates to race and his obligation to govern on the federal bench has been jeopardized."

Cebull, 67, was a federal magistrate judge in Great Falls from 1998 until 2001, when he was nominated for the judgeship by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Cebull, based in the Billings division, has served as chief judge since 2008.

 

 

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.