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HELENA, Mont. — A nonprofit Indian activist group, engaged in voting rights issues, has joined with investigative reporters and others in calling for the public release of "racist" emails sent by a former federal judge who made critical rulings in cases involving minorities.

“Former 9th District Circuit Court Judge Richard Cebull sent hundreds of bigoted emails from his federal computer before 2013, and the public has a right to review them now,” demanded Oliver J. Semans, director of Four Directions in Mission, S.D. 

The controversy eventually led to the “disgraced” Montana chief judge stepping down from his post, where he had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

During his tenure, Chief Judge Cebull presided over several important cases involving Native Americans.

According to Semans, the public should have the right to review Cebull’s numerous emails to determine to what extent his personal views were reflected in his public rulings. Cebull’s decisions often blocked or opposed efforts to expand Indian voting rights in Montana, Semans said.

The judge’s federal email account was abruptly sealed by federal officials after he resigned.

Montana investigative reporters John Adams and Shane Castle have both filed First Amendment briefs calling for the release of the judge’s emails. Both have written extensively on the controversy ever since they learned of the emails’ existence.

“Enough with the secrecy,” Semans said. “Justice demands that the 9th District Circuit Court executive free the file with Cebull’s emails. How can the public be sure Cebull was exercising unbiased judgment unless we see the emails? We know he was sending bigoted emails about groups of people who were appearing in his court. This screams ‘biased judgment.’”

According to an investigative report conducted by the Committee on Judicial Conduct & Disability, Cebull sent out 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.”

Four Directions and Montana-based Indian People’s Action filed the first lawsuit to free the file containing Cebull’s emails. Cebull dismissed a voting rights lawsuit brought by Four Directions while he was being investigated for sending the racially compromised emails, Semans said.

Cebull’s dismissal was later vacated. He was forced into early retirement in 2013 as a result of his continuing offensive writing.

A California District Court heard oral arguments last week on a motion by Four Directions to make sure the 9th Circuit keeps Cebull’s emails from getting erased. 

“Reporters John Adams and Shane Castle understand that only transparency can restore faith in the court,” said Semans. “For all marginalized Montanans, whose faith in Cebull and the judicial system, should be in question, I hope the Court accepts Adams’ and Castle’s request to free the files.”

In one of Cebull’s controversial emails, the former federal judge released a joke to all his friends implying President Barack Obama’s mother was a dog. He later denied he was racist, when asked, but admitted his email may have been in poor taste.

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