U.S. Chief District Judge Richard Cebull, of Montana, retired in 2013 amid misconduct allegations after Cebull sent a racist email from his courthouse computer.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers

California District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Wednesday ordered the investigative file containing the emails that cost disgraced Chief Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull his job must be preserved until 2019.

Last November four plaintiffs – Four Directions, Indian People’s Action, Sara Plains Feather, and Clifford Bird In Ground – filed a petition in California District Court asking the judge to order the Judicial Conference of the United States and Cathy Catterson, the executive of the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, to preserve the email file.

The petitioners in that action were litigants, or represent individuals who were litigants, before Judge Cebull who claimed they were adversely impacted by Cebull’s biased views against Indians, women, and other minorities.

Judge Roberts’ order states, in part:

“…given the unusual posture of this case and the Court’s broad discretion in fashioning appropriate relief, the Court GRANTS that portion of Petitioners’ request for preservation of the emails at issue and ORDERS that Respondents take all necessary steps to preserve the emails at issue, in accordance with Ninth Circuit policy, until January 18, 2019.”


Four Directions executive director Oliver Semans said he is pleased the judge ordered the preservation of the emails. Semans said anyone who traded racist, bigoted or otherwise inappropriate emails with Cebull in the past has a duty to step forward.

“We now call on the officers of the court who trafficked in these racist and inappropriate emails with Richard Cebull to step forward and ensure that they take no role in any case involving Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, the GLBT community, or women,” Semans said. “They had a duty to come forward long before now. They failed, and their failure no doubt has resulted in miscarriage of justice.”
Semans added: “Justice, and common decency, demand no less than full and immediate transparency from these court officers.”
Cebull announced his retirement in April 2013, more than a year after I broke the story that Cebull had sent a racist email from his courthouse chambers containing a “joke” that implied President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with a dog.

The nearly year-long investigation that ensued uncovered “hundreds” of emails “related to race, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and politically sensitive issues that were inappropriate for Judge Cebull to have sent from his federal email account.”

The 9th Circuit Judicial Council found that Cebull’s conduct was “prejudicial to the effective administration of the business of the courts” and in violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.

The emails the council uncovered were never revealed to the public.

Cebull retired in May 2013 and the 9th Circuit issued a statement saying the order stemming from the investigation was “moot” because Cebull retired from active duty.

A higher panel of judges eventually overruled the 9th Circuit’s decision to keep the Cebull order under wraps, but the investigative file containing the emails themselves was never disclosed.

As the journalist who broke the story into Cebull’s appalling behavior, I have been trying to gain access to the email file for more than two years. The 9th Circuit executive has rebuffed by attempts, saying court rules prohibit their disclosure.

The 9th Circuit told the court they planned to keep the file around until Jan. 18, 2019 anyway as a matter of internal policy, but this ruling ensures that will happen while other efforts to uncover them move forward.

Earlier this month fellow Montana journalist Shane Castle and I filed a related lawsuit seeking to force the release of the emails.  Today’s ruling is important because ensuring the emails are preserved, at least for the time being, is the first step to dragging them out into the sunlight.

John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...