Activists want Montana judge booted over rape case
Billings, Mont. • Activists are pushing for the removal of a Montana judge who said a 14-year-old rape victim was "older than her chronological age," as the former teacher who raped her is set to be released this week after serving 30 days in prison.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh has faced withering criticism since he sentenced Stacey Rambold, of Billings, to a one-month prison term and suggested the teenage victim shared responsibility in the case.
Rambold, a former teacher at Billings Senior High School, was due to be released from the state prison in Deer Lodge on Thursday, said Montana Department of Corrections spokeswoman Linda Moodry.
Prosecutors have challenged the 30-day sentence as illegal. But Rambold, 54, is expected to remain free while an appeal from Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is pending before the state Supreme Court.
A leading scholar on judicial ethics said the judge’s comments at the Aug. 26 sentencing hearing clearly violated judicial conduct rules and revealed a bias against victim Cherice Moralez, who killed herself in 2010 as the case headed to trial.
"I’m not generally in favor of disciplining judges for their conduct on the bench, but in my judgment, this clearly warrants disciplinary action," said Monroe Freedman, of Hofstra University Law School in New York. "He has not acted with impartiality here. He has shown bias against the young woman."
Although Baugh later apologized, his continued insistence that his statements about Moralez were irrelevant to Rambold’s sentencing suggests the judge "hasn’t learned anything," Freedman said.
The professor of legal ethics declined to say what punishment would be appropriate. Montana’s Supreme Court can remove judges found to have violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.
Several groups were preparing to file a formal complaint against Baugh on Tuesday with the state Judicial Standards Commission. The complaint will outline Baugh’s alleged violations of the judicial code and include as witnesses the names of 130,000 to 140,000 people who joined onto petitions calling for his ouster, said Marian Bradley, president of Montana National Organization for Women.
"He believes nobody can remove him from office, that he can say these things and then we’re going to go away. Well, we’re not going away," Bradley said. "Our goal is to change the system so that young people, when they come forward for these things, will be heard."
Baugh’s office said Monday that he would have no comment about the complaint.
Bradley added that the case had revealed broader problems in the legal system’s treatment of rape victims, with other victims contacting her group to share additional complaints about their treatment before the courts. Those allegations could result in future complaints with the Judicial Standards Commission, Bradley said.
Under state law, the proceedings of the commission will remain confidential unless the matter is referred to the Supreme Court for potential disciplinary action. The commission can also mete out light punishments of its own, such as admonishing judges either publicly or in private.
Rambold was convicted in April on one count of raping Moralez in 2007, when she was one of his students. Criminal charges were filed against Rambold in 2008, eventually leading to a deferred prosecution agreement in 2010 after Moralez’s suicide took away the prosecution’s star witness.
Under the agreement, Rambold faced no prison time but was ordered into treatment as a sex offender. He was kicked out of that program last year for violating its rules by having unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and having a sexual relationship with an adult woman. That revived the original charges against him.
Prosecutors had sought 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended when Rambold was sentenced in August. Instead, Baugh followed a recommendation from Rambold’s lawyer and gave the defendant 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and a one day credit for time served.
Baugh later tried to reverse the lenient sentence and impose a two-year prison term — the mandatory minimum according to state law. The move was blocked by the Montana Supreme Court because Baugh no longer had authority over the case once he had pronounced his sentence.
Rambold will remain on probation and be required to register as a sex offender after his release.