Montana's chief federal judge said Wednesday that he forwarded an email that contained a joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama's mother, but 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 told the newspaper that his brother sent him the email, which he forwarded to six "old buddies" and acquaintances. He prefaced the email with the message: "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."
The judge apologized and acknowledged that the content of the email was racist but said he does not consider himself racist, the newspaper reported. 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."
Cebull did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon.
Cebull was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001. He has served as chief judge of the District of Montana since 2008.
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."
A recipient of the email forwarded it to another person, who then forwarded it until it eventually reached the inbox of a Great Falls Tribune reporter. Cebull said he was surprised the people he sent the email to would pass it along with his name still on it.
"This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part," Cebull said. "I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I'm not that way, never have been."