Legal Ethics: Off Color Email Humor-No One is Laughing

Posted on January 21st, 2014 by sutter-admin

Former Federal Judge Richard Cebull of Montana found himself up the creek without a paddle as a result of several off color emails he sent to friends and colleagues. It appears that the emails contained inappropriate commentary relating to race, religion and sexual orientation. The subject matter spilled over into some of the critical legal issues that could find themselves in front of a federal judge, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues.

The case was initially investigated by the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The council issued a public reprimand; put a 180 day moratorium on him being assigned new cases; required that he attend training sessions on judicial ethics, racial awareness and elimination of bias; and ordered an additional apology further admitting the magnitude of his conduct. The Judge announced his resignation March 29, two weeks after the judicial council issued its order.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the case arose from the procedural anomaly that developed after the Judge stepped down. According to CBSNEWS.COM, immediately after Judge Cebull retired, the 9th Circuit council vacated its previous order and wrote a new one calling the complaints against Judge Cebull “moot” because of his retirement. The panel also omitted details from the original unpublished order about the other emails Judge Cebull had sent.

Hon. Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, apparently took offense to the manner the proceedings had developed and filed a petition with the National Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability in protest. Judge McKee requested that the committee review the 9th Circuit Council’s alteration of the final report. The 9th Circuit Council took the position it was merely required to disclose a level of detail to insure the public the matter was seriously investigated.

The national committee ruled that Judge Cebull’s retirement only affected the sanctions, but the factual findings and legal conclusions of the investigation must still be published. For more information and the complete CBSNEWS.COM article, click here.