Richard Cebull

Former U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull speaks at the James F. Battin Federal Courthouse on June 23, 2011.

HELENA – Montana’s chief federal judge apologized Wednesday for forwarding an email that contained a joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama’s mother, saying he did so because he dislikes the president and not because he’s racist.

Judge Richard Cebull, of Billings, forwarded the email from his chambers to six other people on Feb. 20, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

Cebull said that his brother sent him the email, which he forwarded to six “old buddies” and acquaintances.

The text of the forwarded email says: “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 took responsibility, calling it “a hard lesson to learn. I apologize.”

He acknowledged that the content of the email was racist but said he does not consider himself racist. He said he has treated all people in his courtroom fairly and he has not heard any complaints otherwise.

“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 said. “I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.”

“To say it’s inappropriate and stupid is an extreme understatement,” Cebull said.

The judge said he was at a loss to explain why he forwarded the message. Friends send him emails of a political nature, he said. “It was a private communication. I didn’t intend for it to go public.”

As a judge, Cebull said, he can’t express in public political preferences but was naive to not consider the public consequences of his actions.

Cebull said he has emailed the other federal judges in Montana apologizing for his conduct. He said he will never forward or send another email from his office that isn’t business related.

Travis McAdam, executive director for the Montana Human Rights Network, said the email’s content was unbecoming of a federal judge.

“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,” McAdam said. “We have a hard time believing that a legitimate criticism of the president involves distributing a joke that basically compares African-Americans with animals.”

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