Criminal Justice

Judge admits violating ethics with remarks about 14-year-old rape victim, but argues against removal

Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who gave a one-month prison term to a teacher convicted of raping a student, admits that he made inappropriate comments during the sentencing–such as saying that the victim, a 14-year-old girl, was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control of the situation as the defendant.”

But while that violates judicial ethics rules, Baugh told the Associated Press, his punishment should be censure, and not removal from the bench. He told the AP that members of the Montana judicial ethics panel will recommend that the state supreme court censure him for the comment.

The underlying criminal case involves Stacey Rambold, a former business teacher at Billings Senior High School. According to court records, the AP reports, Rambold sexually assaulted a freshman girl three times. Rambold was 47 years old at the time. The girl killed herself in 2010, before the case went to trial.

After the girl’s suicide, Rambold agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which ended after he was removed from a sex-offender treatment program for various alleged violations, the New York Times reported.

Baugh in September sentenced Rambold to a 15-year sentence, the Los Angeles Times reported, but suspended all but 31 days of it.

“I can understand the appearance of impropriety, but I wasn’t trying to blame the victim,” Baugh told the AP. Baugh reportedly sent a letter to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission describing Rambold’s sentence as “fair,” the AP reports. The jurist’s letter said that Rambold has had “morally good conduct” in the years after he agreed to deferred prosecution.

The Montana attorney general’s office has filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court, asking that Rambold’s sentence be vacated and sent back for resentencing, and the New York Times report. Meanwhile, Rambold served his 31-day sentence and was released from the Montana State Prison in September, the Billings Gazette reports.

According to the AP, seven groups have filed complaints about the judge’s behavior in Rambold’s sentencing.

“He’s saying the defendant did the morally right thing. Excuse me, the man raped the girl. What is so morally right about that?” said Marian Bradley, director of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the AP. “He should be removed or he should remove himself.”

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