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Why is Judge Richard Cebull Retiring?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull is retiring next month in the wake of the fallout from a racist joke he emailed from an official government account. (Brief thanks, Howard Bashman at How Appealing.)

Judge Cebull, formerly the Chief District Judge for Montana, transitioned to senior judicial status last month, which guaranteed him full salary with a reduced caseload, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski announced in a press release that Judge Cebull would be retiring effective May 3.

In March 2012, Judge Cebull asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to launch an inquiry into his conduct following media reports about the joke. At the time, Judge Cebull told The Great Falls Tribune, "The only reason I can explain to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan ... I didn't send it as a racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."

The timing of the retirement announcement will certainly raise eyebrows, considering that Cebull just announced last October that he would take senior status in March. Following the announcement, University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias told the Billings Gazette that Judge Cebull would be entitled to full retirement "on his next birthday" under the Rule of 80.

We cannot confirm Judge Cebull's exact birthdate, but he was born in 1944. The San Francisco Chronicle's report indicates that he assumed senior status at full pay in March. If that's true, it would explain why he waited five months to execute his senior status switcheroo.

So why the leap to full retirement mere weeks after semi-retirement? Perhaps Judge Cebull received some bad news from the Ninth Circuit.

According to Judge Kozinski's statement, the Judicial Council recently issued its findings from the inquiry in mid-March:

On March 15, 2013 the Judicial Council issued an Order and Memorandum. Judicial Conduct Rule 20(f). Pursuant to Judicial Conduct Rules 22 and 24(a), the Order and Memorandum remains confidential during the appeal period.

The appeal period is 63 days, so we should have a better picture of the Council's findings and Judge Cebull's mindset on May 17: two weeks after he retires.

Who thinks that is a coincidence?

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