Friday, March 2, 2012

Another black eye for Montana

Appellate Court Will Review Cebull Email

Originally printed at
By Sarah Gravlee
March 1, 2012

BILLINGS - An appellate court will conduct a judicial misconduct review of Montana's chief federal judge. This after Judge Richard Cebull forwarded an email to friends containing a racist joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama's mother.

Cebull is sending a formal apology to President Obama and Cebull himself is asking the Ninth Circuit to review the matter. One local man who has spent more than two decades battling intolerance said Cebull's email made him lose faith in the bench.

"Nothing short of a resignation is going to fix this," said Eran Thompson, the chair of Not in our Town, a world-wide organization started in Billings in 1992 when white supremacy groups targeted minorities.

"Our work is to stop hate," Thompson said. "To stand up and say, 'not in our town.'"

Thompson addresses racial issues in the community on a regular basis, but said the email sent by a federal judge hit close to his heart.

"On a personal level for me, I have a white mother and African-American father, and my initial reaction was anger when I saw this judge had written such a horrible email," Thompson said.

The email Cebull forwarded to six addresses ended up in the hands of a reporter at the Great Falls Tribune. They report the email, sent February 20th, included a remark that Cebull admits as being racist. The Tribune quotes the judge saying his motive was political, not racial. For some, that's not good enough.

"It's dehumanizing, first of all. Comparing the likes of skin other than white to being some kind an animal," Thompson said. The news broke around the anniversary of his mother's death.

"I flash to my mother's eyes. The sadness that would have been in her eyes to see something like this," Thompson said.

He is not the only one asking Cebull to resign. The Montana Human Rights Network has an online petition where anyone can join a list of people asking the judge to resign.

"We really feel like this email violates public trust that we put into people who serve in those positions," said Executive Director Travis McAdams.

Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1970, also filed an official complaint with the Ninth Circuit Court. President of that organization Bob Edgar said, "The judge is a federal judge appointed for life. He's to uphold the highest standards of the judicial code of ethics, and he's failed."

Cebull has reportedly apologized for sending the email, but for someone who has been fighting racism in this community for over 20 years an apology is not enough.

"People of color, women who were the target of this insensitive and ugly email will never be able to step into a court room or have any decisions made by him where we won't feel there is a sense of fairness lost," Thompson said.

Several attempts to reach Judge Cebull were unsuccessful Thursday. The Ninth Circuit Court issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying in part, "Judge Cebull has publicly acknowledged that he has acted inappropriately. The judicial council is expected to act expeditiously in investigating and resolving this matter."

The circuit could do anything from dismissing the complaint to recommending Congress impeach Cebull.

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