Complaints about the conduct of federal judges are not uncommon, but few lead to disciplinary action and public reprimand is rare, legal experts say.
Even rarer are cases in which federal judges are removed from office by Congress through impeachment.
Montana's Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull is facing possible disciplinary action by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a racist and sexist email about President Obama that he admitted forwarding from his office computer to several friends last month.
Cebull has publicly apologized and has asked 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski for a review of his actions.
At least two organizations, the Montana Human Rights Network and Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, have filed formal complaints against Cebull, saying his conduct has violated codes of conduct. They called for Cebull to resign.
Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at the New York University School of Law, said this week that Cebull's conduct appears to violate Canon 2 of the Code of Conduct, which says a judge should respect and comply with the law at all times "in a manner that promotes confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
Gillers said Cebull is subject to discipline by the 9th Circuit's judicial council, which is a group of appellate and trial judges with the authority to discipline judges.
Sanctions available include private or public censure or reprimand, Gillers said.
"Public discipline of federal judges is exceedingly rare," Gillers said. "This case deserves it."
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Few Complaints Against Federal Judges Lead to Disciplinary Action