Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ninth Circuit Judicial Panel Attempts to Cover Up Misconduct by Fellow Judge

The AP reports:
A former Montana judge who was being investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

Federal Judge Richard Cebull
Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths and some with inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

A large number of emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull's court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 2013 order.

The council issued Cebull a public reprimand, ordered no new cases be assigned to him for 180 days, ordered him to complete training on judicial ethics, racial awareness and elimination of bias and ordered him to issue a second public apology that would acknowledge "the breadth of his behavior."
What I find even more interesting is what should qualify as an attempted coverup.  The 9th Circuit Judicial Council didn't originally make its sanction of Judge Cebull public.  Instead, two weeks after the sanction, Judge Cebull resigned.  The Judicial Council then vacated its previous order and wrote a new one calling the complaints against Cebull "moot" because of his retirement.  Details from the original unpublished order about the other emails Cebull had sent were also removed.

Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, filed a petition with the national Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability asking the committee to review the council's work and publish the original March 15 order.

In response to McKee's petition, the 9th Circuit Council said that it sought only to disclose enough about the investigation to ensure the public knows the matter was taken seriously, and it did not intend to publish the original order. The national committee did not agree with the position and published the original order detailing Judge Cebull's misconduct.

The eleven federal judges who sit on the 9th Circuit Judicial Council exercised extremely poor judgment in their attempt to prevent their original report detailing wrongdoing by Judge Cebull from being made public.  Not only did they try to keep a report issued public entity about a public official private, they after the fact altered the original report undoubtedly for the purpose of reducing the embarrassment faced by a fellow federal judge.

The 9th Circuit Judicial Council's attempt to protect a colleague reminds one of the Rule 8.2 cases in which state judges have said that the standard protection (actual malice) afforded speech critical of executive and legislative branch officials is not sufficient enough when it comes to attorney criticism of judges.  Although the claim is always that such added protection for judges is about protecting the public, the truth is it is always about judges protecting other judges from criticism.

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