BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Federal judicial officials must preserve hundreds of racist and inappropriate emails that prompted Montana’s former chief U.S. district judge to resign, under a Wednesday court order in a case brought by attorneys for American Indians intent on challenging the judge’s past rulings.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered the emails from former Judge Richard Cebull preserved until January 2019. That’s five years after the U.S. Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee ordered the release of results of an investigation into Cebull’s actions.
Cebull’s 15-year-career on the federal bench ended in embarrassment after The Great Falls Tribune reported in 2012 on a racially charged email he forwarded from his court account involving President Barack Obama.
“We want to get justice for people who have been negatively impacted by Cebull,” said Larry Organ with the California Civil Rights Law Group. “These types of emails are part of the public record, and judges like any other officials need to be transparent in their government communications.”
A judicial committee investigation – which came at Cebull’s invitation – determined he sent hundreds more inappropriate emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths and liberal political leaders.
The contents of those emails have not been disclosed.
Rogers noted that the preservation period she ordered on Wednesday was in line with the policies of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
She denied a request to preserve other documents in the investigation, including the identification of the people who conducted it.
Attorneys for the judiciary had argued the emails were confidential and can’t be released under federal law.
Rogers did not rule on that argument. However, the issue remains alive, after attorneys for the plaintiffs on March 5 filed a separate civil lawsuit seeking to force the release of all the emails.
The plaintiffs include Four Directions, an Indian advocacy group, and Clarence Birdinground, the former chairman of Montana’s Crow tribe. Birdinground was sentenced to three years in prison by Cebull in a 2003 corruption case, and his attorneys are hoping to exonerate him.
Cebull did not respond to a message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Ninth U.S. Circuit Assistant Executive David Madden declined comment Wednesday because the matter remains pending.
The committee that investigated Cebull’s emails found no evidence of any bias when it analyzed his cases.
Four Directions Executive Director Oliver Semans said any other court officials involved in trading racist or inappropriate emails with Cebull should step forward.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.