(Reuters) - A Montana judge, under fire for suggesting a 14-year-old girl was partly to blame for being raped by a teacher, admitted on Tuesday that he violated judicial standards and invited censure from the state’s highest court, documents show.
Judge G. Todd Baugh drew fierce public criticism last year when he sentenced the former teacher, 54-year-old Stacey Rambold, to just a month in prison for the 2007 sexual assault of his student, Cherice Moralez, who later killed herself.
In a complaint filed with the Montana Supreme Court earlier this month, a Montana panel that oversees jurists sought to discipline him over the sentence as well as for saying the girl appeared “older than her chronological age,” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher.
The Montana Judicial Standards Commission said Baugh undermined public confidence in the judiciary, created an appearance of impropriety and “justified the unlawful sentence by blaming the child victim,” according to papers from the commission.
Baugh, in a response filed with the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, agreed that his comments violated judicial codes.
“My remarks ... were the proximate cause of the firestorm of criticism and, thus, in violation of” judicial conduct, he wrote in legal documents, in which he also waived formal proceedings before the commission to submit himself to the state supreme court for reprimand or censure.
But the judge, who has said he would not run for re-election when his term expires at the end of the year, rejected the commission’s description of the rape sentence as overly lenient.
“It is a subjective observation. In any sentence, it is possible that some see it as lenient while others may see it as harsh,” Baugh wrote.
The judge technically sentenced the former Billings high school teacher to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and gave him credit for one day served.
State prosecutors have asked Montana justices to overturn the sentence, arguing that state laws required Rambold to serve a minimum of two years in prison for his crime.
It was unclear on Tuesday when Baugh might face disciplinary action or what penalties were to be imposed.
The commission has declined to say if it was seeking a reprimand or Baugh’s ouster, but said it received eight formal complaints against Baugh as well as hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls from those outraged by his remarks and the light sentence.
The Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women, which lodged one of the formal complaints, wants him ousted, its president Marian Bradley said on Tuesday.
“There is only one right decision to be made in this case: remove Baugh from the bench,” she said.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and G Crosse