Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana admitted Wednesday to sending a racially-charged email about President Barack Obama. The judge acknowledged that the content of the email was racist, but said he does not consider himself a racist.
The controversy has gone viral, and sparked an array of comments about the judge's behavior.
The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20, reads: "A MOM'S MEMORY," media reported. The email, obtained by The Great Falls Tribune, reads:
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?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'
Cebull apparently sent the email to seven recipients, including his personal email address, and said that he got it from his brother, then decided to forward it to his "old buddies" and acquaintances.
The judge apologized for his actions in an interview. "It was not intended by me in any way to become public," Cebull told The Tribune. "I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended."
He added that he does not consider himself prejudiced against people of other races or ethnic backgrounds, and that his "fairness" in the courtroom should confirm that. Cebull added that it was his dislike for the president, not his race, that he had in mind when he sent the email.
"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull told the newspaper. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."
Cebull, of Billings, Mo., was nominated by former President George W. Bush; he received his commission in 2001 and has served as chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008.
The incident evoked a storm of criticism from prominent public commentators who blasted the judge as racist.
Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist Cynthia Tucker tweeted: "PPl like this Montana fed judge always say, 'I'm not a racist.' Look again."
Travis McAdam, executive director for the Montana Human Rights Network, told The Tribune: "It's one thing if the judge is not a fan of President Barack Obama, but you would think someone in his position would articulate that in a way that criticizes his policy decisions or his position on issues."