Censure and Suspension of Judge Baugh

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

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?

8 thoughts on “Censure and Suspension of Judge Baugh

  1. Not harsh enough. He needed to be removed from the bench entirely. But it is due to the hard work of my friends Marian Pesta Bradley and Joanne Tosti-Vasey that it went this far. They have worked tirelessly seeking justice for the 14 year old girl who was raped and committed suicide. Next up, new sentencing for the rapist. Hopefully he will be given the maximum allowable by law, which will again not be harsh enough

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    • I agree with, and appreciate your comments. However, as the mother of a daughter who died from suicide after the injustices that she suffered after a brutal rape, I felt compelled to explain…..

      PLEASE refrain from using the term “committed suicide.” I know this may seem petty, but for the loved ones of people who were lost by suicide, this term is very hurtful. “Committed” is a reference to the days when suicide was considered a crime (prior to the 1980’s). Experts now agree (and have agreed for many years) that people who take their own lives have suffered from illness that is every bit as painful as cancer or any other chronic disease.

      People “commit murder,” “commit rape,” “commit burglary”……however, we do not say that people “commit cancer” (even if the person died from lung cancer after being a heavy smoker), “commit heart disease,” (even if that person died from morbid obesity due to poor diet and lack of exercise.)……I am giving these examples because many people will argue that suicide is a CHOICE…..one could also argue that the examples I stated above were the result choices…..however, we have moved beyond those beliefs, for the most part.

      The proper terminology is, “She died from suicide” or “She took her life.” For more information on this topic, see http://www.psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=5048 There are many more articles related to this topic available online.

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      • Thank you Kristi for commenting on terminology regarding suicide. You have given me a teaching moment and I’m pleased that you took the time to do this publicly. I searched for “committed suicide” throughout my blogging and in the couple of cases that I too used this terminology, I changed it to “died from suicide.”
        I apologize for my initial use of inappropriate terminology. I’m sorry for your loss. And thanks again for caring and taking the time to respond.

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  2. Because of the tireless efforts of NOW members Marian Pesta Bradley and Joanne Tosti-Vasey I believe the treatment of rape by the courts has changed forever. This case and the strident purposefulness of these remarkable women have awakened the judiciary all over the United States to the invidious societal failure that is rape culture. Thank you for your very worthwhile efforts.

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    • Thank you Nancy. We are beginning to make inroads. And with NOW’s resolution allowing chapter leaders to work with each other across state lines on similar issues, we, in coalition, will continue to hear the needs and stand up for women and equality for all.

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  3. Yes, this is a small victory….however, we have a LONG way to go as a society. Judges, police officers, attorneys, etc rarely change their ways of thinking and practicing because of a single…..or even MULTIPLE decisions. The stark fact is that the US is FILLED with judges and court personnel who will continue to pass judgements, not based on fact or the law. They will continue to destroy innocent lives…..many women will report these injustices, only to be ignored by the judiciary and mostly by organizations that are meant to assist women in these horrible situations.

    This is NOT the end…..

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  4. […] July 22, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court censured Yellowstone County Judge G. Todd Baugh for using rape myths that reduced the sentence of a rapist to 31 days in jail. They also suspended him from the bench […]

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