Reporting from Washington — A judicial misconduct review has been opened against the chief federal judge in Montana for using his computer in his courthouse chambers to forward a racially insensitive email about President Obama.
The review was launched at the request of the judge, Richard Cebull, as calls mounted Thursday for his resignation and legal ethics experts predicted the incident probably would result in Cebull receiving some kind of public admonishment.
The judge, appointed by President George W. Bush 12 years ago, maintained after the email was made public that it was meant to be seen as anti-Obama rather than racist, but he added, "I can obviously understand why people would be offended."
The 67-year-old judge in Billings forwarded the email on his court computer to six "old buddies" after receiving it from his brother. It describes Obama asking his mother why he is black and she is white, and her response: "Don’t ever go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark."
The Montana Human Rights Network began collecting signatures urging Cebull to resign.
"The content of this email dehumanizes people of color and women," the organization said. "People of color and women appearing before Judge Cebull will have valid concerns about his ability to treat them fairly."
Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana group, said in an interview that the state’s code of judicial conduct, which applies to state court judges, not federal jurists, requires them to behave impartially both in and out of the courtroom.
"Somebody of that stature, a federal judge, if they want to express their dissatisfaction with the president, you would assume they would do it about policy and issues, not circulating an email that is racist and vulgar in content," McAdam said.
At Common Cause in Washington, President Bob Edgar said, "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."
Cebull told the Great Falls Tribune that he forwarded the email because he is "not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn’t send it as a racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama."