Should a chief circuit judge lose his post for sending a racist email?
Last month, Richard Cebull, the chief district judge in Montana, forwarded a racist joke about President Barack Obama and his mother from his official government email address to six friends. Several forwards later, the "joke" found its way into a reporter's inbox. Judge Cebull apologized, and asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review whether his actions qualify as judicial misconduct.
The Ninth Circuit will soon consider Cebull's self-initiated review, as well as three additional complaints of judicial misconduct against Cebull, reports the Billings Gazette.
And that's not all the bad news for the judge. On Tuesday, Congressmen John Conyers and Steve Cohen sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, asking for a hearing "to consider the full ramifications of Judge Cebull's conduct on integrity of the federal judiciary," and whether "further investigation or possible legislative action" are warranted, reports USA Today.
According to the Judicial Conference guide on misconduct, judicial misconduct may include "conduct occurring outside the performance of official duties if the conduct might have a prejudicial effect on the administration of the business of the courts, including a substantial and widespread lowering of public confidence in the courts among reasonable people."
Based on that standard, and widespread outrage over the email, it seems that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to decide that Judge Cebull committed judicial misconduct. Depending on the outcome of the circuit's investigation, the court could "censure or reprimand Cebull, strip him of cases for a period of time, or ask him to resign," reports USA Today.
If Congress steps in, the repercussions could be more severe. The U.S. Constitution provides that federal judges can keep their seats "during good behaviour." Congress, however, has the power to impeach and remove a federal judge.
Rep. Conyers claims he's not pursuing impeachment at this time, according to USA Today.
It is unlikely that Judge Cebull will be removed from the bench because "while the e-mail was out of line, it just wasn't enough of a big deal to warrant removal," reports CNN.
Even if Cebull isn't kicked off the bench, should he leave voluntarily?
- Shenanigans: How to Report Judicial Misconduct (FindLaw's DC Circuit Blog)
- Sixth Circuit Says Club Membership is Judicial Misconduct (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)
- Judge Richard Cebull's Letter to President Obama (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Richard Cebull Day Two: Time for the Cebullsh** Apology (Above the Law)