A federal judge in Montana made national headlines this week when he confessed to having sent an e-mail that included a racist joke about President Barack Obama.
Many Americans probably found the actions of U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull appalling. But as someone who has been before federal judges on several occasions, I was not at all surprised. In fact, I'm not sure racism would even make a top-five list of disturbing characteristics I've witnessed from federal judges.
That's not to minimize the notion of a racist sitting on the federal bench. In fact, I have a pending employment-discrimination case before William M. Acker Jr., a federal judge in the Northern District of Alabama. The judge is an 84-year-old Reagan appointee, and multiple sources have told me Acker attended the Dixiecrat convention at Birmingham's Municipal Auditorium (now Boutwell Auditorium) in 1948. That's the convention where a splinter group from the Democratic Party nominated Strom Thurmond for president on a pro-segregation platform. Does that lead me to believe that Acker was a racist then, and he's probably a racist now? It certainly does.
If my hunch is correct, Acker is not alone on the federal bench. Cebull, a 2001 George W. Bush nominee, has proven that. Reports The Great Falls Tribune:
The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: "A MOM'S MEMORY."
The forwarded text reads as follow:
"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.
"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?'" the email joke reads. "His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"
Hmmm . . . a federal judge hints that the president's mother had sex with a dog--and the judge thinks that's funny? But the joke itself is not even the most disturbing part of the e-mail. Notice the smugness that drips from these words about the joke: "Hope it touches your heart like it did mine."
This is someone who takes pleasure from making fun of others, from mocking others, from showing flagrant disrespect for the president of the United States, our commander in chief. This e-mail is the work of a twisted mind.
Most any American who was caught sending such a piece of trash from his work computer would be summarily fired. As someone who was fired at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because of false allegations that I was using my work computer to write a progressive blog, I'm more than a little sensitive to issues such as this. And by the way, it's not just my opinion that I wasn't using my computer to write my blog. UAB's own IT employee, who was asked to monitor my computer usage for one month, admitted I never typed the first keystroke on my blog. (The real reason I was fired? Audiotaped evidence shows it was because of my reporting, on my own time and with my own resources, about the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.) UAB's own grievance committee found that I should not have been fired--in fact, my hearing showed there were no grounds for discipline of any kind--but the university's HR director and president chose to uphold the termination anyway.
Would I like to see Cebull get the boot for gross misuse of federal property? I sure as hell would, and calls for the judge's resignation already are coming from some quarters. Unfortunately, federal judges have lifetime appointments and are pretty much untouchable. Cebull has admitted the e-mail was racist, but will he have the decency to step down on his own? I'm not holding my breath.
Federal judges operate in what amounts to a hermetically sealed bubble, and it's rare for Americans to catch a glimpse of how they really think and act. Here in the Deep South, we got such a glimpse in late 2010 when U.S. District Judge Jack T. Camp was caught in Atlanta buying drugs while packing heat and cavorting with a stripper. God only knows how much mayhem Camp got away with on the bench, but he was forced to step down and surrender his law license for his "extra-judicial activities."
|Judge William M. Acker Jr. (right)|
with Stanford professor Jack Rakove
No. 1 on my list of ugly judicial traits probably would be disrespect--for litigants, the public, the constitution, the judicial office, and (most of all) the law itself. I recently wrote about two Alabama federal judges--Acker and Abdul Kallon--who have exhibited flagrant disrespect for the law in cases I have before them. I will be providing specifics in a series of upcoming posts.
But here is a general idea of what I'm talking about: In a hearing before Acker, the judge, in so many words, admitted that he was going to cheat me--and he, in fact, did just that. The judge also made public statements strongly hinting that he had discussed my case with someone connected to the opposing party (UAB).
This all takes some explaining, and I will provide the explanation in upcoming posts. But readers can be assured that this is not just a product of my overactive imagination. I have a transcript of a hearing that proves what I'm talking about. Mrs. Schnauzer was on hand for the hearing and swore out an affidavit about Acker's statements. I included her affidavit in a complaint to the judicial council for the U.S. Eleventh Circuit.
The take-home lesson? Federal judges get away with all sorts of misconduct, even crimes, and the public is blissfully unaware of it.
We can thank Richard Cebull for accidentally shining light on the ugliness that resides in certain judicial hearts and minds. We especially can thank the person on the judge's e-mail list who apparently developed a conscience and decided to expose him.
Let's close with a legal tip: It's almost impossible to successfully sue any judge (federal or state) for an act that comes within his judicial duties. Judges can commit all sorts of fraud--and injure parties in heinous ways--and get away with it. That's because the doctrine of judicial immunity protects them for their judicial acts, no matter how unjust or unlawful they might be.
But I will let Schnauzer readers in on a secret, one the legal cartel does not want you to know: Sending racist e-mails is not part of Judge Cebull's judicial duties; even he would not seriously argue that it is. Our Montana judge, therefore, is vulnerable to a federal lawsuit.
Who could bring the lawsuit? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that any federal taxpayer could do it? What would be the claims? I feel certain the ACLU, or a similar organization, could come up with something involving the misuse of federal property.
This is a rare opportunity for the public to hold a federal judge accountable. We should not let it slip through our fingers.