- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Attorneys for the federal judiciary moved Tuesday to prevent the release of hundreds of inappropriate and offensive emails from a U.S. district judge in Montana who was reprimanded for sending racist correspondence.

The attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department said the emails were confidential and can’t be released under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull resigned last year following an investigation into a racist email he forwarded that involved President Barack Obama.

Judicial investigators determined Cebull sent and received hundreds more inappropriate messages during his years on the bench.

A group of American Indians filed a federal court petition in California in July to preserve the emails as evidence.

They plan to challenge past cases decided by Cebull, including the bribery conviction of former Crow Tribe Chairman Clifford Birdinground (BURD’-in-grownd).

Named as defendants in the petition were 9th U.S. Circuit Court Executive Cathy Catterson and the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability. The judicial committee oversaw the investigation into Cebull, while Catterson is said by the plaintiffs to be the keeper of the investigative file on the judge.

Attorneys for Catterson and the committee moved Tuesday to dismiss the petition. They said federal law shields the results of the Cebull investigation from public disclosure, and that the plaintiffs had failed to show they had any valid claims on which to base future lawsuits.

“The whole purpose of this action is so the petitioners can have the (investigative) file and eventually review the emails … to determine if they support a legal claim,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Neill Tseng wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Petitioners, at this point, cannot show they have the standing to sue.”

The case is before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California.

Rogers already dismissed the petition once. She said in October that it was “hypothetical” because the plaintiffs originally did not specify any of Cebull’s cases that they hoped to challenge, according to court documents.

Rogers allowed the attorneys representing the American Indian plaintiffs to file an amended petition last month. That’s when the plaintiffs added Birdinground to their case and detailed instances when Cebull allegedly violated the rights of American Indians in other cases.

The 79-year-old former Crow leader was sentenced to three years prison in 2003. Birdinground pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from a car dealership that did business with the southeast Montana tribe.

Birdinground later sought to retract his plea and go to trial, but Cebull rejected the request, a decision upheld on appeal.

Other cases highlighted by the plaintiffs in the petition to preserve Cebull’s emails include a lawsuit over satellite polling places on reservations and a case involving the Crow Tribe’s water rights.

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