Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cebull delivered a prophetic commencement address, warned grads about the perils of email

Embattled Montana Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull last year warned law school graduates about the perils of electronic communication.

Cebull addressCebull, who last month made national headlines when the Tribune first reported the judge sent a racist, misogynistic email about President Barack Obama’s mom from his federal courthouse computer, is facing a judicial inquiry.  Leading Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have called for a congressional hearing into Cebull’s conduct, and nearly 3,000 people have signed the Montana Human Rights Network’s petition seeking Cebull’s resignation.

Perhaps if Cebull had heeded the advice he gave to law school graduates less than a year ago he wouldn’t be in this situation.

Cebull -- lamenting the “old days” when attorneys met face to face instead of sending hasty, angry emails -- told the 2011 graduating class at the University of Montana School of Law to think twice before clicking the send button on certain emails.

“In the old days I'd dictate a scathing letter to opposing counsel who deserved it, let it sit on my desk for a day or two. That was before I'd consider signing the letter or sending it off. Each time that occurred I never signed the letter and it was never sent.

Why? Because I had the opportunity to think about it.

In the present day, and I know this just from the volumes of emails that I receive in support of various motions, the lawyer sits at a computer, furiously types out an email, and then without thinking about it he moves the curser up to send, hits a button and off it goes.

What's wrong with that scenario? You didn't give yourself time to reflect on the comments and the statements you made in your email. Probably the biggest problem is you can't take it back.”

Not only can you not take it back, but as Cebull is now keenly aware, electronic communication can go viral in flash, and you can’t control how wide or how far it will spread.

Here’s the audio of the entire address. The warning about emails starts about 15:30.  

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