Judge Richard Cebull, a federal district judge from Montana, has a brother. The brother sent him an e-mail containing a joke about the President. Using his government e-mail account, the judge forwarded it to some of his friends. That got the judge into very hot and deep water when a newspaper got a copy and the story went viral. See, for example, the New York Times editorial Judge Cebull’s Racist ‘Joke.’ The judge sincerely apologized and filed a complaint against himself with the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council. Yesterday, the news folks reported that the judge has now retired.
As one who once wore (and revealed) a bra while sitting on the bench in our special proceedings courtroom to illustrate my mordant claim to be the first woman to serve as a district judge in Nebraska, I empathize with Judge Cebull. I suppose the reason that I avoided a judicial conduct complaint is because everyone knew that my shtick* was good-natured. Sexist it might have been, but the laughter, including that emanating from my dear friend Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp, was both warm and loud.
I read the joke that Judge Cebull sent. I confess that I laughed when I read it. Although it was tasteless and race provided the premise for the joke, it reminded me of a lot of something that Richard Pryor might have written. I loved Pryor.
Anyway, I doubt very much that Judge Cebull is a racist. Take a good look at his biography sometime, and then examine the reviews of lawyers about the judge’s background, ability, performance and demeanor. See, e.g., Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, Aspen Publishers, Inc (2013) (search “Richard F. Cebull”). Unless you are totally lacking in objectivity, I bet you conclude that Judge Cebull is the type of judge we want on the federal bench even though the judge made a mistake by forwarding the joke.
So, why this post? As Sgt. Phillip Freemason Esterhaus, in Hill Street Blues, frequently intoned, “Be careful out there.” It is a humorless and bitter world we live in.
*I am only slightly worried that the use of that word makes me an anti-Semite.