Racist Federal Judge Gets Down In The Political Mud

March 1, 2012

Federal Judge Richard Cebull should resign — immediately.

Although this post deals with politics, it is not a political statement; it is a statement on how our current brand of mean-spirited destructive politics has integrated every segment of society, including the federal judiciary. It is also about the phrase “independence of the judiciary” and why that concept is a two way street: The legislative and executive branches of government should not apply undue pressure on the judiciary so as to impair its independence; however, the judiciary also must maintain its independence by refraining from the kind of political mud-slinging which others practice.

An Associated Press news story:
HELENA, Mont. (AP) Montana’s chief federal judge said Wednesday that he forwarded an email that contained a joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama’s mother, but he did so because he dislikes the president and not because he’s racist.
Judge Richard Cebull, of Billings, forwarded the email from his chambers to six other people on Feb. 20, The Great Falls Tribune reported.
Cebull told the newspaper that his brother sent him the email, which he forwarded to six “old buddies” and acquaintances. He prefaced the email with the message: “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.”

Further details: [Politico] “The email, first obtained by the Great Falls Tribune, was forwarded by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull last week from his court email account to seven recipients — including his own personal email address — under the subject line, “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

I will not post the text of the joke, although I am tempted to do so because it is vile and racist in the extreme. If you really want to read it, I’m sure you can find it online as easily as I did.

It is unbelievably despicable that a federal judge would engage in this type of conduct. Although he suggests he is not racist, but instead merely anti-Obama, one could not possibly enjoy this “joke” unless that person is accepting of racist attitudes. A non-racist reads that “joke” and thinks, “Uggh, another idiotic racist statement” and then hits the DELETE button. A person who is either racist or completely accepting of racism thinks “Ha, that’s funny; I’m going to send that on to my friends and family.”

We know which route Chief Judge Richard Cebull took. He sent it on to others to “enjoy,” and all because (as he says) he doesn’t like our President.

Judge Cebull should resign. In my opinion, his conduct is a violation of four of the five canons of conduct applicable to federal judges.

Judicial Code of Conduct for United States Judges:

A judge should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards, so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.

Canon 2A. An appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired. Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. This prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny and accept freely and willingly restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.

[Judge Cebull did not technically violate this Canon only because we do not know that he allowed these racist views to actually affect litigation pending before him.]

A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, including law-related pursuits and civic, charitable, educational, religious, social, financial, fiduciary, and governmental activities, and may speak, write, lecture, and teach on both law-related and nonlegal subjects. However, a judge should not participate in extrajudicial activities that detract from the dignity of the judge’s office, interfere with the performance of the judge’s official duties, reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality, lead to frequent disqualification, or violate the limitations set forth below.

(A) General Prohibitions. A judge should not: … (2) make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office;

We’ve known for a while that public trust in government has gone down. I haven’t done detailed up to the minute research on the polling results but the most recent Gallup poll I reviewed (from September 2010) shows public trust in the legislative branch at 36% and in the executive branch at 49%. The judiciary, however, was at a relatively good 66%.

I suggest these polling results for the judiciary are the result of a view that federal judges try to stay above the fray.

Judge Richard Cebull’s email, which is both racist and maliciously political, will go a long way to destroy the public’s trustful perception of the federal judiciary. If he were a person of honor, he would immediately resign.

I suppose, however, we already know he is not a person of honor based on his actions, so I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to do the right thing.


Illinois Adopts Rules of Evidence

October 4, 2010


Until now, the admissibility of evidence in Illinois was primarily governed by the developing case law of reviewing court decisions. Recently, however, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted formal, codified Rules of Evidence. These Rules take effect January 1, 2010. A copy of the Rules may be found here:


As an older lawyer who has worked with the case law pronouncements of our evidentiary rules, I do not fully understand why formal, codified Rules of Evidence must now be imposed. This is especially true given the fact that the Rules of Evidence, as stated in the Commentary accompanying the Rules indicates that these codified Rules for the most part merely restate the case law development of evidentiary rules. In any event, this is the statement  of the Supreme Court committee as to why these Rules were promulgated:

Currently, Illinois rules of evidence are dispersed throughout case law, statutes, and Illinois Supreme Court rules, requiring that they be researched and ascertained from a number of sources. Trial practice requires that the most frequently used rules of evidence be readily accessible, preferably in an authoritative form. The Committee believes that having all of the basic rules of evidence in one easily accessible, authoritative source will substantially increase the efficiency of the trial process as well as expedite the resolution of cases on trial for the benefit of the practicing bar, the judiciary, and the litigants involved. The Committee further believes that the codification and promulgation of the Illinois Rules of Evidence will serve to improve the trial process itself as well as the quality of justice in Illinois.

Truthfully, I don’t believe the presence of these Rules will significantly affect trial practice. Analogous to the adage, “the devil is in the details,”  trial court rulings on the admissibility of evidence will depend on how the appellate courts interpret the general statements of law found in these Rules of Evidence. To the extent that will be founded upon the pre-Rules of Evidence case law, I guess I won’t have to throw out my case law trial book which is 600 pages long in 10 point type and which I have maintained for the last 25 years — thank goodness.

Writing Court Orders

March 17, 2010

The comments of a bankruptcy judge regarding the problems with lawyers who write out orders have been making the rounds for a while. Judge Kressel identified a list of Do’s and Don’ts for attorneys. Attached is that list along with the judge’s additional comments which were recently published in the Illinois State Bar Association’s Bench and Bar Section Council Newsletter:

Judge Kressel on Writing Orders

I am generally in favor of simplifying the language of court orders but Illinois courts do not always make it easy to do. The most prominent example of this are the “magic words” which must be placed in any order entered pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304 (“…there is no just cause or reason to delay the appeal or enforcement ….”). Also, there is case law suggesting certain magic words must be used when a case is dismissed pursuant to settlement in order to permit the court to retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.

Additionally, some judges like the use of old style legal jargon. In the end, a court order is the judge’s order so we must do what he/she wants. For me, Judge Kressel’s comments are common sense directions.