The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider at least three judicial misconduct complaints that have been filed against Montana's Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull as well as the judge's own request for a review.

David Madden, the public affairs officer for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, said this week that both Cebull's request and the formal complaints will be considered together.

An investigation will occur, but Madden said he could not comment on its length or precise nature.

The circuit will "act expeditiously and will act thoroughly. It will take some time," Madden said. "I know this is an unusual situation. Everyone is aware of what the issue is."

Cebull has been the focus of outrage and calls for resignation by state and national human rights and government watchdog groups and the media for a racist and sexist email he admitted forwarding to a few friends from his chambers last month. The email contained a "joke" about President Obama and his mother.

Cebull apologized publicly and in a letter to the president and asked for a review of his conduct by the 9th Circuit.

While Cebull waived confidentiality about his requesting a review or to the existence of any proceeding that may follow from a review, the investigation is confidential, Madden said.

The vast majority of misconduct complaints about federal judges are about the outcomes of cases, Madden said.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski is aware of the matter and has informed the judicial council, which is the circuit's governing body, Madden said.

When a complaint is filed, the chief judge reviews it and decides whether it should be dismissed or referred to a special committee or if the issue already has already been resolved.

If some or all of the complaint is not dismissed or resolved, the chief judge must appoint a special committee to investigate and make a recommendation to the judicial council. The chief judge must invite the judge who is the subject of the complaint to respond and has discretion to combine separate complaints.

A special committee is composed of the chief judge and equal numbers of circuit and district judges. The committee may hold hearings, take testimony or receive other evidence. The judge being reviewed also has the right to have an attorney. Actions by the committee are decided by a majority vote of all members.

The special committee forwards its investigation and recommendations to the judicial council. The council reviews the information and has a range of actions it can take, from dismissal to censuring or reprimanding a judge. The council also can refer the issue to the Judicial Conference of the United States if the council decides the conduct could be grounds for impeachment by Congress or other resolution.

The Judicial Conference is a policy-making board for the judiciary and can recommend impeachment or other disciplinary measures.