Activists seek Montana judge ouster over lenient rape sentence
(Reuters) - Citing age, race and gender bias, women activists asked a Montana panel on Tuesday to oust a state judge who sentenced a former teacher to just one month in prison for raping a 14-year-old student who later killed herself.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh drew a torrent of criticism after sentencing former Billings high school instructor Stacey Rambold, 54, for the 2007 rape of Cherice Moralez, who committed suicide before the case could go to trial.
The outcry from women's groups was further inflamed by remarks made by the judge during the sentencing hearing, suggesting the victim was partly to blame. Baugh said the teenager had seemed older than her years and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as her teacher.
The Montana and Pennsylvania chapters of the National Organization for Women filed a complaint with the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, which has the power to sanction jurists.
"We're not going away, and we're not giving up until the judge has been removed," said Montana NOW President Marian Bradley after filing the complaint on Tuesday afternoon. She also delivered 8,000 pages containing tens of thousands of signatures from online petitions calling for the judge's ouster.
Baugh did not respond to a request for comment.
The complaint argued that he had violated legal, ethical and conduct codes that govern state jurists, including a rule designed to promote confidence in the integrity of the judiciary by suggesting the girl was in part to blame.
RACIAL AND GENDER BIAS
Baugh also violated state laws by imposing a penalty that fell short of a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, the complaint said, arguing that the judge showed gender and racial bias against the victim, who was Hispanic.
"Judge Baugh's bias is clearly rooted in the child victim's lower-income minor, Hispanic female (status) and the rapist's middle-class adult, white male socioeconomic status, age, race and gender," NOW members wrote in the filing.
The groups made copies of the complaint public in a process that otherwise requires confidentiality by the commission, a panel whose five members include two judges, an attorney and two Montana residents.
Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the Montana equivalent of rape, in 2008 in connection with Moralez, a student in a technology class he taught. He was suspended from his Billings Senior High School job and later surrendered his teaching certificate.
Moralez killed herself in 2010, before the case could go to trial, crippling a prosecution that was depending on her testimony. In a plea deal struck later that year, Rambold admitted to a single count of rape, while prosecutors postponed the case and agreed to dismiss it if he completed sex offender treatment.
Prosecutors reinstated the case after being notified that Rambold had been dismissed from a treatment center for violating its rules. He pleaded guilty to rape in April, and last month was sentenced by Baugh to 15 years in prison - with all but 31 days suspended.
Baugh has apologized for his remarks about Moralez, but that has not quelled the outrage, which culminated last month with protests outside his offices.
Meanwhile, Rambold is to be released on Thursday from Montana State Prison and will be on probation until 2028, said Chris Evans, probation and parole supervisor with the state Department of Corrections. The Montana attorney general has appealed the sentence as insufficient under state law.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)
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