His honor U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull is sitting at his desk when the clatter of foot traffic erupts outside his office door. He checks the time before removing his necktie and dropping it into a small side drawer. Next, he slips into the gown freshly fetched from a closet by his clerk.
From the same drawer holding his necktie, he extracts a small mirror. Looking into the glass, he smiles. Cebull admires the handsome face and distinctive bearing of the silver-haired jurist in the mirror.
In the courtroom waiting for the judge are G-men, T-men, assistant district attorneys, a team of defense lawyers, the defendant and his accuser. None are as regal or as handsome as the judge.
The federal courtroom reeks of respectability, propriety, decency and civility. No one spits on the floor, scratches himelf, chews tobacco, or smokes.
Motivation for all this decorum is, of course, the judge and his position.
He enters the room and the bailiff shouts, “All rise!”
Everyone does. People spring to their feet and men doff their hats. When the judge signals, they sit down again. The judge whispers to the bailiff and things begin to stir in the courtroom. Three or four men near the judge are packing loaded guns but none would mistake the four pistoleros for the boss of this jamboree. The judge is in charge, a fact no one disputes.
A year ago (seems like only yesterday) his honor received an e-mail containing a vicious, racist statement about the president of the United States. The statement suggested that President Obama’s mother engaged in wild parties and had sex with dogs.
A humble pilgrim might expect his honorable honor to do something honorable in such a case. Cebull bathes in the adoration and respect of the public daily, is surrounded by armed men who will protect that respect and might even shoot someone who belched or broke wind in his honor’s presence.
At the very least, Cebull might have reprimanded the distributor of such filth. He might have told the spreader of dog sex jokes, “I am greatly offended by your assumption that I might enjoy such a hideous and hurtful piece of mind rot and bigotry.”
He might have sent a copy of the e-mail to the state Republican Party chairman with a note, “This sort of garbage can only tarnish the public image of the Party of Lincoln.”
Instead, the judge sent copies of the “joke” to seven of his friends. Anyone savvier than a house cat would have known better. Cebull didn’t.
Federal judges can be impeached but Cebull won’t be. He is not guilty of a crime. Aggravated stupidity is not a crime. But trusting seven buddies with a dire secret is a grave lapse of judgment. At some point the judge caught a case of the bujums.
Cebull asked an appellate court to review the obscene e-mail and decide whether his actions constituted misconduct under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act.
Cebull admits to the error of forwarding the e-mail and admitted that it “involved suggestions of bestiality and the president’s mother.”
Still, he insisted that his motives were political rather than racist. To his credit, he apologized to the president and invited an investigation.
Saying I’m sorry - even “I am truly sorry - doesn’t rid the judge of the stink of racism.
He might even explain that he did not intend it to be taken as a racist remark. He could say that but it wouldn’t fly. If someone called the judge a foul-minded old man in a black dress, there would be no taking back the slur.
After Cebull asked for an investigation of his actions, a year passed before a special committee of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals passed on its findings to a special committee. On March 15 the committee issued a report that remains confidential. Cebull’s status changed from active to senior at the end of last month. Cebull has until May 17 to appeal any finding of judicial misconduct.