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March 1, 2012

Apologies, inquiries and calls for resignation involving Chief Judge Cebull

Not surprisingly, today's story about a federal district judge forwarding a racially charged email about President Obama is generating buzz in places other than this blog's comments.  Via two posts from How Appealing, here is some of that buzz:

"Human rights groups, citizens call on Cebull to step down": The Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune has this news update.

And The Associated Press reports that "Judge who sent Obama email asks for review."

Update: The Ninth Circuit's Circuit Executive issued this statement today.

"Montana Judge Apologizes in eMail Controversy": The Public Information Office of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has posted copies of the apology letters at this link.

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March 1, 2012 at 08:37 PM | Permalink


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I don't like defending judges. However, this judge should have not apologized. He should resist all investigations and ethics reviews to the utmost. All criticisms are pretextual, politically motivated lawyer gotchas. It is his critics who are liars and hypocrites, not to mention left wing ideologues. His mother hated America, and indoctrinated her son into her views. All credit must go to her parents for his achievements. But for them, he would be just another Kenyan relative.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 1, 2012 9:56:43 PM

Of course he should apologize. His insinuation that Obama's mother had sex with dogs is beyond disgusting.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 2, 2012 12:52:06 AM

hmm fed think you need to go back and read the article!

HE didn't write it! was just dumb enough to get it and not just delete it. Instead was stupid enough to forward it to 6 so-called good buddies one of which is obviously out for his ass!.

If they really want to go AFTER someone...might want to find out WHO SENT THE ORIGINAL EMAIL!

But i agree he should be removed from the bench...disbared and never allowed to vote again. Anyone dumb enough to not only forward that crap but do it FROM A MONITORED GOVT COMPUTER is TOO STUPID to be allowed to be near people!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 2, 2012 1:31:09 AM

There would be none of this lawyer churning if he were a left wing extremist Clinton or Obama appointee. This is straight political pretext.

And while I advocate doing total e-discovery on prosecutor and judge computers, it is for case relevant material.

As a federal employees, we were not allowed to use the phones for personal use. However, that rule only came up when they were trying to get rid of the person. Here are the phone records with 10 calls to your mother. We will be referring them to the FBI. Why not just resign and avoid the whole embarrassing matter?

If I were the judge, I would demand to see the computers of my attackers.

There is no bigger racist than the feminist, the human rights group, the Democratic Party, the party of the KKK. They are genocidal maniacs if one counts the excess number of murders of dark skinned people they have orchestrated by their pro-criminal policies. And the excess number of aborted viable fetus with dark skins. This is the height of lawyer hypocrisy, to attack a joke, while killing dark skinned people in the womb and in the street. These gotchas are also borrowed from the Inquisition, with its infinity of rules and plea deals.

The Republican chairs of committee should propose the investigation of the opponents of this judge for intimidation and false uses of the law.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 2, 2012 7:05:37 AM

I doubt much of anything will happen.. Take former Federal Judge Jack Camp...He was buying drugs from a felon hooker and had several loaded guns in the vehicle while he did it.. Kicker is he was also presideing over cases while he was a cocaine addict..
I haven't heard anything about the cases that he sat over, just sweep them under the table i guess, close enough for government work..This is the kind of behavior that should be followed up on and reported back to the people.

Instead of a good 10 yr sentence, he got off with a few months probation and a misdemeanor, so he retained his license and $174K pension.....

Actually this judge really didn't do much wrong, really..He didn't write it, he read it and sent it to a few friends as a quiet joke....Like so many things that are federal
(the guidelines especially) it just got blown out of proportion...

Hopefully this will pass and he can retain his position...This is just something for people to to yack about. The kind that hang on this site, so as to have a life..

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Mar 2, 2012 9:43:42 AM

Maybe it's just me, but there's something delightful about Judge Cebull writing to Judge Kozinski about something inappropriate on his government owned computer.

Posted by: alan chaset | Mar 2, 2012 10:11:55 AM

People, including judges, sometimes appreciate jokes in horrible taste. Such things are usually done in private. He showed horrible judgment in doing so here in a way that he should have knew could come out. It's like if he -- in his own name -- talked about it on some blog comment thread. It is a bit much though to "investigate" him in Congress and talk of resigning is overblown.

I'm sure there are other things some judge or other "finds touching" that many of us would find disconcerting. Like their sex preferences, best to keep it private and use a bit better judgment. Live and learn.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 2, 2012 11:40:40 AM

He conduct is a disgrace and brings the federal judiciary into disrepute. He should resign.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Mar 2, 2012 12:01:14 PM

A few comments

Anyone who thinks racism is not a part of the criminal justice system is living in another universe.

I am constantly amazed at the naivete of commenters on the blog who blithely ignore the reality that racial considerations contribute to decisions, particularly in capital cases. Whether you call it racial discrimination or racial awareness or consciousness or whatever, there is no place for it in matters as serious as who lives who dies.

federalist, your position that he should "apologize" diminishes the incident. He should resign and acknowledge his unfitness as a judge. If he were in our district I would be filing motions to recuse him anytime I had a black client who was scheduled to appear before him.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 2, 2012 5:50:36 PM

bruce, that's not the standard for judges and you know it. Hey, if you want to up the standards, that's cool with me though. How 'bout we start with Manuel Real, Stephen Reinhardt and Richard Paez. Real got his wrist slapped for abusing his office to screw a guy out of 30 grand, and Reinhardt and Paez played games with the record on a capital case.

He forwarded a disgusting email. If that's a removal offense for a federal judge, then what about the three I mentioned?

And what of the "wise Latina" comment?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 2, 2012 6:51:32 PM

oh, and bruce, you'd be a fool for filing those motions--you know this guy is going to bend over backwards on these things now.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 2, 2012 6:52:26 PM

the reason for removal is not forwarding a "disgusting" email. It is the judge's demonstration that he is unfit for office because he cannot survive the Tumey v Ohio test of maintaining the appearance of impartiality, irrespective of whether he can pass the test of actual bias. Tumey has recently been reaffirmed by Caperton.

on your second post above, federalist, you are suggesting that he will now engage in reverse bias. So, to take your comment to its logical end, the white defendants have a ground to recuse him. Your comment reinforces the existence of racial consciousness in the criminal justice system. What do you mean by "these things."? I assume you mean partiality based on conscious or subconscious racial distinctions.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 2, 2012 7:04:27 PM

I don't believe he should resign. I don't believe that one thoughtless error should ruin a man's life or career, even though I have personally witnessed people dinged for a lot less. I remember an observation one wit made about Eleanor Roosevelt, "She got even with her adversaries in a way that almost cruel: she forgave them."

Posted by: Justmeagain | Mar 2, 2012 10:39:24 PM

Maybe it's just me, but I didn't really see how it was racist. Don't get me wrong -- not defending the conduct. It was disgusting, mean spirited, and in poor taste, and in no way should the judge have forwarded that along. I just don't see how it was so much denigrating Obama for his racial composition as it was basically calling his mother a whore.

Either way, at minimum I'd think an apology is required from Cebull.

Posted by: Guy | Mar 2, 2012 11:11:48 PM

we're not talking about "one thoughtless error" . We are talking about a revelation of Judge Cebull's basic values. He saw nothing wrong with circulating the joke, which had as its centerpiece the racial stereotype of the wide=eyed black youth asking a question which serves as a foundation for a slur. The joke wasn't about a boy with red hair asking why he had red hair and his mother had brown hair, and the mother responding that he should be glad his hair is not golden, because she was so drunk she really can't remember what happened at the party at the last meeting of the Golden Retriever's Association she attended.

It is axiomatic that people only joke about things that they are serious about. The man is unfit to be a judge.

This seems like an easy one to me. He has forfeited his position of being a judge because he has exposed a basic personal flaw, a willingness to stereotype, which is antithetical to the values necessary to be a judge.



Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 3, 2012 8:13:48 AM

Bruce, your standard could very well raise single acts of misjudgment into not single acts of misjudgment but some "revelation" of a person's "basic values." Someone uses some crude epithet or tells a crude joke to others, well, he or she is a racist, sexist, bigot etc.

I wouldn't want to be judged this way and we shouldn't judge others that way. If "basic personal flaws" will make people unable to be judges, you will need lots of stones there. The "willingness to stereotype" is not a resigning offense. It is hard to find someone who will not do that in some fashion. It's human nature.

We really shouldn't be in the horrible joke police business.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 3, 2012 8:56:47 AM

It's funny how people can't seem to deal with the "wise Latina" comment. Here it is: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Now I grant you that Sotomayor isn't such a great speaker, but she is clearly linking race and the quality of decisionmaking. And it doesn't work to say that she was really focused on "richness of [] experiences"---then why does she even bring race into it at all? Is it appropriate to link the quality of decisionmaking with race? I think not.

Does anyone think that the white males in the New Haven Fire Department got a fair shake from her?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 3, 2012 9:11:32 AM

Joe, federalist has actually expressed why he can no longer be an effective judge because his decisions no longer have the force of the Rule of Law behind them. Federalist says I would be a fool to move to recuse him because he will now bend over backwards by being lenient to black defendants in order to show he is not a racist. In other words, federalist no longer believes that Judge Cebull's decisions will be based on what Herbert Wechsler famously called the "neutral principles" that must be at the foundation of a court system which has only its legitimacy with which to enforce its decision. We cannot have a criminal justice system in which judges respond to something they have said by showing favoritism toward one group of individuals who may or may not have been the subject of a comment made by the judge.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 3, 2012 9:38:57 AM

bruce, everyone knows that no judge is completely cut off from all personal experiences . . . . so I have admitted nothing. The fact remains that your standard is not evenly applied, and you know it. Perfection cannot be demanded of mere mortals.

And where is your call for Sotomayor's resignation?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 3, 2012 10:57:09 AM

The reference to Sotomayor is tedious. She is a Latina. She is presumably hoping that she is somewhat "wise." So, the basic point there is that she hopes that she would be able to make the best decision given who she is. Some white Asian can say the same thing or some white Catholic. And, commenting about herself in that sense is not the same as making some racist comment about another group. It's not the same thing as this.

Bruce, F. is right at 10:57, and that can be said each time a judge does something stupid and for a time being is on best behavior. We don't suddenly say the judge in question should resign. The same applies to various types of public officials. Your standard is simply unworkable and would require a mass resignation.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 3, 2012 1:08:37 PM

Joe, my standard, the appearance of lack of impartiality, has been in use since Tumey v Ohio, which I think was 1927. Are you a defense lawyer? If so, suppose you represent a black defendant coming before Judge Cebull for sentencing and your client pulls out a copy of the email and says that he doesn't think he can get a fair hearing before a judge who thinks that this is funny and he would like for you to file a motion to recuse Cebull and get his case in front of a different judge. What would you do? Explain that this was just one incident? He was just kidding and he really is a nice judge? Explain that Cebull didn't mean for the email to become public? Withdraw?

Again, I think federalist hit the nail on the head. Cebull has put himself into the untenable position of no one accepting what he does now at face value. Federalist doesn't, he or she believes that Judge Cebull's sentences now will have an unarticulated, ulterior motive of demonstrating that he is not a racist. Cebull has created his own catch-22. If your black client gets hammered after you have told him that Cebull is really a good fellow, you client will say "I told you so." If Cebull gives a light sentence then federalist will say "I told you so."

You are looking at this issue from the perspective of Judge Cebull, rather than the perspective of defendants who come before him from now on.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 3, 2012 2:21:21 PM

I don't know if anyone will go back to read this at this late date. But, I am not an attorney. I am a lay person who happens to be African American and happens to have seen my share of racist judges who will slap a white child on the wrist for a minor possession case, and put a black child in prison for 5 years for the same case. If a judge has a stereotypical view of African Americans he will carry it into his courtroom.

Federalist is right. He is only human. However, a human judge who feels that any group is less than another group; who is not appalled at a joke claiming Black people in general and President Obama in particular are offspring of dogs, would do better in a position in which he would not have to make subjective decisions about someone's life. Perhaps he is a good person. He is just in the wrong field.

Posted by: saintswriter | Mar 3, 2012 4:55:53 PM

Joe, read what she said. She is referencing race and the quality of judging. Yes, it is not a crude sexual reference to bestiality, but she apparently thinks that race and the quality of judging are connected.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 3, 2012 5:20:43 PM

A person of any race or ethnicity can be biased toward other races, can have stereotypical views of other races, and those views can be so ingrained in their thinking that they would have difficulty judging fairly and without bias. That is not connecting race to judging. It is connecting one's mindset to judging. If I believed all white men are prone to be serial killers, then I would not be qualified to be a judge because I would not be able to judge fairly. I would have determined, before the evidence was presented, that if the defendant is a white man he is guilty. On the other hand, if I were a meter maid, or a garbage collector, or even an Astronaut, it wouldn't matter what I thought of others in terms of carrying out my job.

Posted by: saintswriter | Mar 3, 2012 5:35:58 PM

Federalist is doing nothing but trolling here by throwing out false equivilencies based upon what anyone who gets their news from sources besides Fox News is a myth.

Basically federalist knows that it is impossible to defend this racist and sexist judge so he is trying an incredibly lame "both sides do it argument" - there is no sense in even addressing him because he has already lost by trying to pretend that a purely malicious racist and sexist email is comparable to a purely innocent statement that judges are going to have different perspectives based upon their backgrounds.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Mar 3, 2012 5:46:45 PM

Bruce, judges repeatedly have done something stupid and then been on their best behavior for some period of time, and it was not found to meet the test of recusal. Your "rule" will not be applied in any evenhanded way.

Federalist, I read it already, and even your analysis makes it much less bad than the issue at hand. Anyway, race and sex affect judging somehow. Why did Reagan say he would appoint a woman justice? She also again was saying that she hoped that who she was -- again, some white gay guy could have said the same thing -- would allow her to be the best judge possible. This not said in a demeaning way, but as a means to promote empowerment to a group underrepresented in the avenues of power.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 4, 2012 11:50:22 AM

Joe, you mix apples and oranges. First off, what politicians say about judges and representativeness is different from a judge linking race with the quality of judging. If Sotomayor is correct, then the bench should be filled with wise Latinas. But we all know that Sotomayor doesn't have the intellectual firepower to start with (if you don't believe me, take a look at some of her tortured testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee).

You can dance all you want around it, but the bottom line is that a sitting US Supreme Court Justice thinks that the quality of judging is linked to race and that white males don't have it. Pretty f'in arrogant from someone whose intellectual firepower is not that highly regarded even by people who supported her.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 4, 2012 6:52:18 PM

federalist - you must have missed Tarls' comments on the previous thread that relate to the wise Latina comment. Tarls thinks that judges have every right to be racist, so long as there is no hard evidence that they carry their racism into the courtroom. Not that you have to agree with everything Tarls says, but I find your disagreement with him on this interesting.

Posted by: moe | Mar 4, 2012 8:04:23 PM


Posted by: EXCELSIOR1 | Mar 12, 2012 6:43:55 PM

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