Federal judge in hot water over racist joke

A federal judge in Montana who used official court email to circulate a racist joke about President Barack Obama has acknowledged the indiscretion and initiated a misconduct complaint against himself, court officials said on Thursday.

The scandal prompted government ethics watchdog group Common Cause and the Montana Human Rights Network to call on Thursday for the resignation of the Billings-based judge, Richard Cebull, the chief judge for the U.S. judicial district in Montana.

The email in question came to public light when it was published on Wednesday by the Great Falls Tribune, which received a copy forwarded to the newspaper by someone else in the chain of the email’s distribution.

The subject line of the two-paragraph email, sent from Cebull’s courthouse email account on February 20 to various friends and acquaintances, according to the newspaper, reads: “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

The text starts out saying, “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.”

The joke that followed included a lewd reference to Obama’s biracial parentage.

Cebull was appointed to the federal bench in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush.

JUDICIAL CONDUCT PROBE

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Montana, said in a statement that Cebull “has publicly acknowledged that he has acted inappropriately.”

Through a letter he sent to the chief judge of the 9th Circuit, Cebull “has initiated the process by which a complaint of judicial misconduct will be brought against him,” the statement said. It added that the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit was expected “to act expeditiously in investigating and resolving this matter.”

Common Cause said it filed its own, separate complaint against Cebull with the Judicial Council.

“If he has any respect for his office and for ideals of equality and human dignity on which our country was founded, Judge Cebull will step down today,” Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.,-based group said in a statement.

Under the U.S. Constitution, federal judges are appointed for life and can be removed only through congressional impeachment, a process that has rarely resulted in a judge’s dismissal.

A finding of misconduct by a Judicial Council can constitute grounds for impeachment. But David Madden, assistant executive for the 9th Circuit, said he did not think dismissal was likely in such a case, where the complaint was self-initiated. He added that the judge could continue to serve on the bench while the complaint was processed.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, agreed that severe sanctions against Cebull were unlikely.

“I suspect what’s going to happen is there will be some degree of reprimand or admonition coupled with a suitable apology on the judge’s part,” he said.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that he was “concerned by the situation because it calls into question a lack of judgment by a federal judge.”

A representative for Cebull could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

He has publicly admitted sending the email. He told the Great Falls Tribune in an interview published on Wednesday, “I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended.”

(Reporting by Lori Grannis and Laura Zuckerman; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Thomasch)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012

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13 Responses to "Federal judge in hot water over racist joke"

  1. David Atkinson  March 2, 2012 at 7:05 am

    No surprise here, a number of people still cant accept the fact we have a black president, so this is what they do. Its obvious this person has no class; that why he will never go on his own, he will have to be removed. We cant trust this kind of person to make the important decisions he is responsible to make.

  2. Sandy Price  March 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

    David, it goes deeper than race. The religious right runs on wiping out much of what Adolph Hitler found offensive in Germany.

    Most Americans fled nations where all sorts of phobias were thrown at them. My own Scottish roots came to the new world for freedom and then made their own religion to separate them from others. They became killers of others they considered heretics.

    The history of the LDS is built on killing not only other Christians, but native Americans who they felt were animals. It is the nature of the beast to become a pure race and keep it pure.

    The man in question here is a Federal Judge.

  3. woody188  March 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Doesn’t seem racist, but more a “your mom” kind of joke. It’s actually more racist toward whites, indicating white women would willingly perform bestiality and group sex.

    • Carl Nemo **==  March 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

      I agree Woody188. If anything the sending of this email is indicative of the low metric content that circulates via their court network, ‘family and friends’ except this one was over the top. Maybe the good judge hits the sauce at the end of hard ‘daze’ work of sending interstate cattle rustlers to the pen.

      Here’s the content so folks can read it rather than depending on the article content alluding to the Judge’s indiscretion without providing the content.

      ***

      From the article: “Cebull sent the e-mail from his courthouse address on Feb. 20 to family members and friends. The subject line was: ‘A Mom’s Memory.’ The text said: ‘A little boy said to his mother, ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

      ***

      / : |

      Carl Nemo **==

  4. Carl Nemo **==  March 2, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    As a Federal Judge he doesn’t have to step down and I surely hope he does not!

    Bill Clinton didn’t step down over the Monica scandal nor was the impeachement against him successful. G.W. Bush didn’t step down due to the fact he Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Colin Powell et al. lied about the presence of of WMD’s in Iraq, or will Barack Obama when eventually the truth will come out about his cooked birth certificate and his questionable bonafides.

    Judge Richard Cebull has an appointment to the Federal bench authorized by Congress and so too endorsed by G.W. Bush our former President. He’s a judge for life, even if convicted of a crime he can continue to draw his paycheck unless Congress decides to remove him from the bench via impeachment which they won’t in this case.

    I can’t imagine a Montana Federal judge such as Cebull who no doubt has some ‘starch’ where it counts stepping down over kneejerk pressure from a bunch of liberal ‘leftie’ hypocrites. He’ll possibly be censured, he’ll apologize and that’s end of story.

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Mike Harris  March 4, 2012 at 1:16 am

      Carl,

      I do not understand how you can be touchy after your comment about judges being appointed for life therefore no matter what he can or perhaps should stay. During the early history of this nation Supreme Court Judges sided with southerners regarding slavery, that was wrong but it took hindsight for some to finally understand. I would probably place you in that bevy, slow to understand. Even the bible was used to justify mans inhumanity to man, as the Koran is being used by some for the same reason today.

  5. Donna Gayler  March 3, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Carl, having sex and making a racisit comment via a joke are two different things. This judge is supposed to be unbiased towards anyone coming into his court. The joke proves otherwise. And racist is racist, no matter if it’s towards whites, blacks or purple people eaters. If it walks like duck…

    • Carl Nemo **==  March 4, 2012 at 3:08 am

      Greetings Ms. Gayler:

      All I can say to your post is that none of us are without sins against race, at least on occasion…no? / : |

      With reference to a stoning:

      “So when they continued asking him (Jesus), he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” …John 8:7 Christian Bible

  6. Robert Stockman  March 3, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Almost everyone is prejudiced in some way or other but Federal Judges should be held to a high standard. It bothers me more that Federal Judges decide political issues such as redistricting or who won the 2000 presidential race along their political ideals. And why do you make people go and hunt around the internet to get the text of some lame racist joke instead of just publishing it and saying it’s stupid.
    Many jokes are by nature exaggerated, racist or prejudicial. Maybe President Obama should replace him with a black judge. Oh, I forgot. there aren’t any blacks in Montana.

  7. woody188  March 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I actually was going to link to the full text of the joke but did not do so due to the posted guidelines.

  8. Carl Nemo **==  March 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    “The text starts out saying, “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.”

    [The joke that followed included a lewd reference to Obama’s biracial parentage.]

    Cebull was appointed to the federal bench in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush.” …extract from article content presumably ‘edited’ by CHB my brackets

    Since there was no disclaimer to the fact that the joke was held back intentionally it seemed fair to me posting it as a reply to Woody’s reference to the same concerning it being simply a “your Mom kinda joke” which it was not.

    We’re talking about accusing a U.S. Federal Judge of racism, so in an open society one would think the alleged inflammatory content would be posted in an article such as this, but it was not, leaving readers to either fetch it for themselves or to let the issue lie and fester within as to what this assuredly racist judge shared with associates etc.
    I simply provided the content for which the allegations arises concerning his ‘racism’. If anything it was a tasteless joke, but is not absolutely indicative that the judge is a racist concerning his decisions from the bench.

    As for me being an ombudsman for this site, that’s your opinion. Rest assured I will not, will not be bullied by anyone, not even the site host or an editor. I’m not dense and get your drift as to me no longer being welcome on this site.

    If your clicks for $$ are a valued commodity, then my final suggestion is that the newly implaced staff value their readership and if not, CHB’s following will assuredly wither and die like a slug under the noonday sun.

    Finis…!

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Doug Thompson  March 5, 2012 at 4:13 am

      Carl Nemo writes:

      As for me being an ombudsman for this site, that’s your opinion. Rest assured I will not, will not be bullied by anyone, not even the site host or an editor. I’m not dense and get your drift as to me no longer being welcome on this site.

      If your clicks for $$ are a valued commodity, then my final suggestion is that the newly implaced staff value their readership and if not, CHB’s following will assuredly wither and die like a slug under the noonday sun.

      Carl, it is outrageous assumptions like this that get you into trouble. First of all, I don’t give a damn about clicks, money or traffic. Never have, never will. This site has never been a business, has never made money and never was intended to be a business venture. Real long-time readers know that.

      Second, the only person who can make a decision on whether or not a commenter is welcome is me. You chose to issue this bitter farewell without appealing the editor’s decision on removing your earlier comment (and appeals from readers come to me all the time). I overruled the editor on the decision to prohibit the full text of the joke and your original post was restored before you stomped off. Is your goal is to find any excuse to be critical rather than offer any real constructive advice?

      For the record, I was unaware of the new guidelines put in place by the editor. I have been out recovering from pneumonia and have only had time to review past articles over the weekend. I felt the new guidelines were too restrictive and ordered them removed. That is my prerogative. I own this thing and I pay the bills.

      Capitol Hill Blue will not die because some posters choose to leave no more than it would die if I left. This site has been a fixture on the web for more than 17 years and it exists to report news — nothing more, nothing less. The only thing that will kill this site is if I choose to shut it down. And no one will make that choice for me.

      • Carl Nemo **==  March 5, 2012 at 5:19 am

        This afternoon I sent you a personal email airing concern for your health issues and also an apology for my behavior of late.

        As I implied in the email you didn’t deserve the literary lashings that I’ve laid upon you and your site, specifically my charge of you utilizing ‘sock puppets’ for editors and staff. I realize it caused you angst; again my apologies for writing such rather than contacting you personally concerning such issues.

        CHB provides “the right stuff” as a news forum and has stood the test of time in terms of web longevity. Carry on Sir…!

        Wishing you, your staff, both CHB and RR’s forum participants the best of luck for the remainder of 2012 and beyond. : |
        Carl Nemo **==

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