Board urges discipline for Montana judge who gave short rape sentence

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-04 19:30:04-05
By Steve Almasy


(CNN) — G. Todd Baugh, the Montana judge who drew a firestorm of criticism after sentencing a former high school teacher to a month behind bars for raping a 14-year-old girl, is the subject of a formal complaint from a judicial review board to the state’s Supreme Court.

An attorney for the Judicial Standards Commission filed the four-page document on Monday, saying Baugh “eroded public confidence” in the judicial system and “created an appearance of impropriety.”

Malin Stearns Johnson said Baugh’s actions in the case of Stacey Dean Rambold warrant disciplinary action, but Johnson didn’t recommend a specific penalty.

Last month, Baugh, 72, announced his retirement at the end of the year, when his term ends. He said his retirement was unrelated to the case, in which he ordered Rambold to serve 31 days in jail and more than 14 years on probation for the rape of the student who later committed suicide.

Baugh acknowledged making controversial remarks about victim Cherise Morales at Rambold’s sentencing in August. According to the Montana attorney general’s office, the judge said she looked older than her years and was “probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.”

Morales committed suicide in February 2010.

“I am sorry I made those remarks,” the judge wrote to the commission in November. “They focused on the victim when that aspect of the case should have been focused on the defendant.”

Baugh said he weighed all relevant factors in passing sentence.

“The defendant’s last legal or moral transgression was the crime he committed and admitted,” he wrote. “In the ensuing almost six years, he had legally and morally good conduct, he was reinstated in sex offender treatment and the undisputed evidence supported community placement and treatment.”

The length of the sentence, Baugh’s comments and the age disparity between defendant and victim drew criticism and a firestorm of media attention.

The Montana attorney general’s office in November appealed the 31-day sentence, saying it did not meet the state’s mandatory minimum sentence.

Rambold had sexual relations with Morales in fall 2007, when she was 14 and a student in one of his classes at Billings Senior High in Billings. She confided in a church group leader and Rambold was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

He was released from jail in September and is on probation until August 2028.

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