MT Judge Suspended Over Rape Remarks
BOZEMAN, Mont. (CN) - Montana's high court voted Wednesday to publicly censure and suspend a judge for saying a 14-year-old rape victim seemed "older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as the 47-year-old teacher who raped her.
"There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them," Justice Mike McGrath wrote for the 5-1 majority.
Montana District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh sparked public outrage last August over comments he made while sentencing former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Rambold to an effective 30-day prison sentence for raping a 14-year-old freshman.
Baugh said Rambold's victim was "a troubled youth, but a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as [Rambold], one that was seemingly, though troubled, older than her chronological age."
He sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended, and with credit for one day served. The state had sought a sentence of 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended.
Baugh later doubled down on his comments, telling members of the press: "It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."
Rambold's victim committed suicide in early 2010, before a trial set for July 16 of that year.
Montana agreed to forego prosecution if Rambold entered a sex offender treatment program. But the former teacher was kicked out of the program for poor attendance and failed to comply with other conditions -- he had unapproved contact with minor-aged relatives -- so the state resumed prosecution.
He pleaded guilty last April to one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
The national backlash against the Montana judge was so great that Baugh later tried to modify Rambold's sentence, but the Montana Supreme Court said he lacked the authority to do so.
The high court vacated Rambold's sentence in April and remanded for resentencing by a different judge.
In Wednesday's ruling on the formal complaint filed by the Judicial Standards Commission, the justices noted that Baugh himself admitted to having violated the state's judicial code.
"Judge Baugh's comments in open court in this case disregarded longstanding Montana law that a person under the age of 16 is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse," McGrath wrote.
"His assertion that the victim was 'older than her chronological age' is inconsistent with Montana law categorizing child victims of sexual offenses based on their chronological age alone, rather than on subjective perceptions of physical maturity and situational control. In addition, Judge Baugh's later attempt to retract his sentence and rationale was inconsistent with Montana law. Finally, Judge Baugh made additional inappropriate public statements attempting to justify his actions," the ruling states.
"Through his unlawful sentence, inappropriate rationale, and subsequent public comments, Judge Baugh has eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety, therefore violating the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct," McGrath concluded. "He has caused Montana citizens, as well as others, to question the fairness of our justice system and whether prejudice or bias affected the outcome of the Rambold case."
The court adopted the commission's recommendation to publicly censure Baugh and went a step further by suspending him without pay for 31 days.
Dissenting Justice Laurie McKinnon disagreed with her colleagues' decision to impose a harsher sanction than what the commission recommended.
"Our decision today may be viewed by some as arbitrary and predicated solely upon the personal opinion of any particular justice," she wrote. "As a result, we have ultimately exacerbated the breach in public confidence initially wrought by Judge Baugh."
Baugh's term on the 13th Judicial Court of Montana in Yellowstone County ends Dec. 31. He does not plan to seek reelection.
His 31-day suspension is set to begin Dec. 1.