As my final blog for 2014, I want to summarize what I believe to be my most successful endeavor in social justice for this year. It is the case in Montana that in social media became known by the hashtag #Justice4Cherise.
In 2013 and 2014, I worked closely with both Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW to remove G. Todd Baugh—a local Montana judge—from the bench in Yellowstone County, MT for using rape myths to trivialize the 2007 rape of a 14-year-old girl Cherise Moralez by her high school teacher Stacey Rambold. The trivialization of this crime committed against this young woman occurred after she had died in 2010 by suicide and could no longer speak for herself.
Baugh sentenced Stacey Rambold to 30 days in jail because the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she looked “older than her chronological age.”
Using my blog site and the Pennsylvania NOW Education Fund website as a public forum and pinning my blog posts to Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, I worked with others to spread the word about this case and called upon the state to provide #Justice4Cherise. Here’s the chronology (with links) to what happened from August 2013 through December 2014.
We helped spread the word that we were collecting signatures through We Are UltraViolet of our outrage at Judge G. Todd Baugh’s unethical behavior on the bench and called for his removal by the Montana Judicial Standards Commission (August 29, 2013).
We then filed a complaint with the Montana Judicial Standards Commission about Baugh’s unethical behavior. We presented the background of the rape case and a summary of Judge G. Todd Baugh’s misconduct; cited the portions of the judicial rules of conduct that were violated; and noted that thousands of “witnesses” had joined Montana and Pennsylvania NOW in this complaint. These witnesses included more than 250,000 people around the world who called for either the resignation or removal of Judge Baugh (September 24, 2013);
Baugh Responds to Our Complaint and We Respond Back
We announced that “Judge” Baugh had agreed with our complaint that he had violated one of the three ethical rules we cited in our September complaint. He did say that he failed to
“promote public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and [did not] avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety [by his actions].”
His response to our complaint then continued with additional bias and use of rape myths to support his unethical behavior. So we responded with a written follow-up to our complaint and again let the public know what was happening (December 8, 2013).
Amicus Brief Filed
Five days later, six women’s groups — Montana NOW, Pennsylvania NOW, Legal Voice, Sexual Violence Law Center, Women’ Law Project, and Legal Momentum — filed an amicus brief before the Montana Supreme Court. This brief documented the rape myths that Baugh used in determining and handing down the sentence he gave to former teacher and convicted rapist Stacey Rambold. We were supporting the Montana Attorney General’s call for overturning the original sentence and remanding the case back to Yellowstone County Court for re-sentencing. The amicus brief we filed focused on rape myths and their inappropriate impact in adjudicating and sentencing in sexual-assault cases. We asked the court to take the effect of these types of rape myths into account when making their decision in this case and, upon remand, to assign the case to a new judge for sentencing. Our amicus went further than the Attorney General’s appeal in that we did not want Baugh to do the resentencing and that we wanted the Supreme Court to order the county to reassign the case to another judge who would be less biased in handling sexual assault cases (December 13, 2013).
In January 2014, after reviewing Baugh’s response to the complaints filed against him, the Montana Judicial Standards Commission recommended to the Montana Supreme Court that they publicly censure him for his unethical behavior. Meanwhile the Montana Attorney General’s appeal of the Rambold sentence handed down by Baugh worked their way behind the scenes in the Montana Supreme Court.
What Happened to Rambold
April 2014: Sentence Overturned
On April 30, the first outcome of these two cases was announced (April 30, 2014). With a review of all the legal documents provided to the court (no hearing was held as the Court felt they had enough information from the documentation they received), the Montana Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Montana v. Rambold case. The Court overturned the 30-day sentence and remanded the case back to Yellowstone County ordering a new judge to resentence Rambold using the mandatory sentencing guidelines for rape. The last two paragraphs of the Court’s opinion indicate that the Court heavily relied on our amicus in ordering the remand:
¶21 On remand for resentencing, we further instruct the court to reassign the case to a different judge to impose sentence. We have considered several factors to decide whether a new judge should be assigned to resentence a defendant in a particular case, among them; whether the original judge would reasonably be expected to have substantial difficulty in putting out of his or her mind previously expressed views determined to be erroneous, whether reassignment is advisable to preserve the appearance of justice, and whether reassignment would entail waste and duplication out of proportion to any gain in preserving the appearance of fairness. Coleman v. Risley, 203 Mont. 237, 249, 663 P.2d 1154 (1983) 10 (citations omitted). In State v. Smith, 261 Mont. 419, 445-46, 863 P.2d 1000, 1016-17 (1993), we remanded for resentencing to a new judge when the judge’s statement at trial evidenced bias against the defendant. Even where bias did not require reassignment to a new judge, we have reassigned where media coverage and public outrage “have snowballed to create an appearance of impropriety.” Washington v. Montana Mining Properties, 243 Mont. 509, 516, 795 P.2d 460, 464 (1990).
¶22 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. Under these circumstances, we conclude that reassignment to a new judge is necessary to preserve the appearance of fairness and justice in this matter.
May 2014: Appeal Filed and Subsequently Denied
On May 14, Rambold’s attorney appealed the Supreme Court’s order to overturn the minimal sentence originally handed down and used the same arguments given by Baugh – “It was her [the victim’s] fault.” He seemed to say that the circumstances surrounding the rape of a minor and her responses to her teacher’s advances isn’t all that bad and therefore no change in the original sentence should be made.
September 2014: Resentencing
The Supreme Court denied the appeal and on September 26, Rambold was resentenced in Yellowstone County District Court.
According to the Billings Gazette, Judge Randall Spaulding sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison with five years suspended for the rape of Cherise Moralez. The Gazette reported that Judge Spaulding said that “
the victim’s age, Rambold’s position as a teacher and Rambold’s response to being warned by school officials all factored into [the] sentencing. [And] Rambold’s Internet usage was an aggravating factor [in determining the length of the sentence].”
On November 24, Rambold’s attorney Jay Lansing filed a “notice of appeal” to the Montana Supreme Court for the 10-year sentence; so far, the reasoning behind this appeal is unknown. We will continue monitoring what is happening in the months to come to see what happens.
What Happened to Baugh
June 2014: Supreme Court Decision
Meanwhile, back to G. Todd Baugh. As the April 30 decision by the Montana Supreme Court hinted at in the Rambold case, censure was in the air for G. Todd Baugh. On June 4, the Court announced that they would not only be censuring Baugh in public for his unethical behavior but that he would also be suspended from the bench. Here’s a link to that decision. We believe and agree with the Court’s written opinion that “There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them.”
July 2014: Public Censure
Baugh was given time to respond to this decision of censure and suspension. And on July 22, the public censure was handed down. Marian Bradley, former President of Montana NOW, and I were in the courtroom for the public censure. Baugh stood before the Court for the censure, but said nothing.
According to the Billings Gazette, Chief Justice McGrath “did not read a sentence in the transcript of the censure that asked if Baugh had anything he wanted to say.” We had a statement ready to read to the court. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to speak about our concerns before the Court, most likely because the Court did not want to hear any more of Baugh’s excuses for his behavior. We had expected to deliver these comments publicly. Since we were unable to speak them, we sent our statement directly to Baugh and posted them on this blog for the world to see (July 22, 2014).
This blog was followed up on the Pennsylvania NOW Education Fund website with a more detailed overview of rape myths that Baugh and other members of the judiciary have used in trivializing rape (August 31, 2014).
December 2014: Suspension
On December 1, Baugh was suspended from the bench without pay. Today (January 31) is the last day of his suspension. Since he decided not to run for reelection for the bench, he will not be returning to work as a judge as he no longer has a seat within the judiciary. He is gone.
We have as of today
Stacey Rambold is in prison for ten years for the rape of Cherise Moralez
G. Todd Baugh no longer serves as a judge due to his unethical use of victim-blaming rape myths.
It’s a Happy New Year for 2015 for all victims, survivors, families and advocates for social justice. Happy New Year everyone!