The Montana Supreme Court has just handed down their decision on the ethics complaints filed against Judge G. Todd Baugh in his mishandling of the rape case against Stacey Rambold. This is the case where Judge Baugh sentenced ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to thirty days in jail for raping one of his 14-year-old students.
In explaining this slap-on-the-wrist sentence, Baugh used several rape myths that showed gender and racial bias against Cherise Morales—the 14 year old, Hispanic girl whom Rambold raped. During the sentencing hearing, Baugh stated that the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she was “older than her chronological age.” There were a total of eight verified complaints submitted to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission as a result of Judge Baugh’s actions; one of these complaints was filed by Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW (see our complaint here and blog summarizing our complaint here).
On April 30, the Montana Supreme Court vacated Rambold’s minimal sentence, largely based on the amicus brief we filed with the court. They remanded the Rambold case back to Yellowstone County District Court. Yesterday they denied Rambold’s request to reconsider. The new sentence will be imposed by the District Court by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, the Court has now followed up on their intent to censure Judge Baugh. Their intent to censure was originally announced in the April 30 decision in the Rambold case. In that opinion, the Court said of Baugh’s behavior:
In the present case, Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice. The idea that C.M. could have “control” of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks any control over the situation whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity. Judge Baugh’s comments have given rise to several complaints before the Judicial Standards Commission, which has recommended disciplinary action by this Court. Those complaints will be addressed in a separate proceeding.
In their 4-1 decision today censuring Baugh, the Court indicated that Judge Baugh violated the “Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary” canon.
Here’s a copy of the full decision. Judicial Standards Commission v Judge G Todd Baugh decision 6-4-2014
And here’s an excerpt from that decision:
Violation of Rule 1.2: Promoting public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and avoiding impropriety or the appearance of impropriety
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. 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. 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….
There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them [emphasis added].
Censure and Suspension
The Court has given Judge Baugh until June 19 to respond to their proposed suspension since he only agreed to public censure on violating this rule. If he does not withdraw his consent to discipline by that date, he will be required to appear before the Montana Supreme Court at 9:30 am on Monday July 1, 2014 for the delivery of public censure by the Court. Then on December 1, 2014, he will be given a 31-day suspension without pay from the bench, thus losing the last month’s pay of his salary before he retires. If he does withdraw his consent for censure, the case will be returned to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission for a formal proceeding.
I suspect that Judge Baugh will accept the censure and suspension. Rumor has it that Judge Baugh is considering stepping down from the bench on July 1 due to the general belief that he cannot fairly rule from the bench because of the public censure. If true, the only effect of the 31-day suspension will be a loss of one month’s salary based on his earlier announcement that he would retire from the bench on December 31.
And as a final food for thought… this 31-day suspension / “sentence” seems to me to be very similar to the 31-day sentence imposed by Judge Baugh on Stacey Rambold for raping a 14-year old. Did the Court have this in mind when they decided on the length of the suspension? Is this Tit for Tat for his use of rape myths? Who knows?