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Montana judge who circulated offensive Obama joke set to retire

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Montana who initiated a misconduct complaint against himself last year after circulating a racially charged joke about President Barack Obama will retire next month, court officials said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, 69, will retire effective May 3, according to a statement posted this week on Montana's federal court website. The statement did not cite reasons for Cebull's decision, and an aide to the judge said he did not plan to address the matter.

Cebull filed a complaint of judicial misconduct against himself during an outcry that ensued when a Montana newspaper published a copy of the joke that Cebull sent to friends from his official court email account.

Other complaints were also filed against Cebull with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting an investigation. The findings of that probe were submitted in December to the circuit's judicial council, according to a separate statement posted by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

On March 15, the council issued an order and memorandum based on the probe. Cebull received copies of both, but their contents are to remain confidential until an appeal period elapses on May 17, said David Madden, assistant executive for the 9th Circuit.

The appellate court's Judicial Council said there would be no further statement on the incident until Cebull, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2001 by President George W. Bush, has retired, according to the chief judge's statement.

The subject line of the two-paragraph email sent by Cebull last February contained a subject line that read "A MOM'S MEMORY."

The text of the email began: "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 joke that followed included a lewd reference to Obama's biracial parentage.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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