BILLINGS — Attorneys for the federal judiciary have asked a court to reconsider its order for officials to preserve hundreds of racist and otherwise inappropriate emails from Montana’s former chief U.S. district judge.
The order threatens to undermine a federal law that guarantees the confidentiality of misconduct investigations, the lawyers for the Judicial Conduct Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference and the 9th Circuit Executive Office said in recent court filings.
They said the emails from former Judge Richard Cebull would be preserved regardless until January 2019, under court policy.
Cebull stepped down in 2013 after revelations he’d forwarded a racially charged email involving President Barack Obama from his court account. An investigation found hundreds more inappropriate and disparaging messages sent by Cebull, expressing disdain for Indians, Hispanics, blacks, women, immigrants, certain religions and liberal political leaders.
Civil rights attorneys want those emails made public to challenge some of Cebull’s past rulings in cases involving American Indians, including the 2003 corruption conviction of Clifford Birdinground, the former chairman of Montana’s Crow tribe. They’ve asked U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to stand by her March 18 order for the emails to be preserved.
But attorneys representing the Judicial Conduct Committee suggested in court filings that Rogers’ March order could cause harm to other investigations if it stands.
“It may chill judges and witnesses from voluntarily participating in future judicial misconduct and disability investigations, out of concern that all evidence obtained during such investigations may one day be discoverable,” wrote Robert Goodin, a San Francisco attorney for the committee.
Rogers has scheduled a hearing in the case later this month in Oakland, California. The case was filed in California because the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court conducted the initial investigation into Cebull and is in possession of the emails.
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