Mont. judge faulted for alleged bias in rape case

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Critics of a Montana judge who handed down a 30-day sentence to a former teacher convicted of raping a student lodged a formal complaint Tuesday asking for his removal from the bench.

The complaint alleges that District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Billings showed bias and undermined public confidence in the judiciary when he said the 14-year-old victim was “older than her chronological age.”

It also faults Baugh for giving convicted rapist Stacey Rambold a lenient sentence that prosecutors have since appealed as illegal.

Representatives of the Montana National Organization for Women and the group UltraViolet delivered the complaint to the state Judicial Standards Commission in Helena.

If the five-member commission decides Baugh’s actions in the case were biased or otherwise inappropriate, it can send the complaint up to the Montana Supreme Court, which has the power to remove him from the bench.

Rambold, 54, received 15 years in prison with all but a month suspended for raping the Billings Senior High School student in 2007. He is due to be released from the state prison in Deer Lodge on Thursday.

Victim Cherice Moralez killed herself in 2010 before the case went to trial.

Barring a violation of the terms of his probation, Rambold will remain free while the appeal is pending, although he will be required to register as a sex offender.

Baugh’s office has said he has no comment on the complaint. He has acknowledged mishandling the case and that state law mandates a two-year minimum prison term for Rambold. He’s also apologized for the comments he made about Moralez at an Aug. 26 sentencing hearing.

But his critics say they’ll be satisfied only with his removal.

Montana NOW president Marian Bradley was accompanied by her husband, Ray, daughter Alexandra and three supporters as they handed over the complaint to Supreme Court administrator Beth McLaughlin.

The supporters held signs saying “Rape Is Rape” and “Disrobe Judge Baugh.” The complaint took up 10 boxes and included thousands of pages bearing the names of an estimated 140,000 people who joined online petitions calling for Baugh’s removal.

Bradley said Rambold’s case offered a glimpse into what she described as a pervasive culture of “victim blaming” within the legal system. She said more complaints would be filed in coming weeks against Baugh and potentially three other judges.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that this never happens again here in the state … to make sure that we can protect any woman or child who comes into court,” Bradley said. “I think the Supreme Court has to act upon it. This community is outraged. This is not OK.”

Joining onto the Baugh complaint was the Pennsylvania chapter of NOW, which Bradley said was advocating for victims in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex assault case at Pennsylvania State University.

Court officials say judicial complaints reached the state’s high court just six times in the last 25 years.

Only twice were judges taken off the bench —in 2008, when Lincoln County Justice of the Peace Gary Hicks was removed after several women complained that he offered them leniency in exchange for sexual favors, and in 1997, when Justice of the Peace Janet Eschler in Billings was removed for sentencing defendants without hearings and altering court records.

More often, complaints against judges are resolved by the judicial commission, which conducts its proceedings in private and has the power to issue reprimands or dismiss complaints found to have no merit.

Between 2010 and 2012, the commission received 214 complaints against judges, according to reports submitted to the Legislature.

Twenty of those resulted in letters of reprimands or admonishments of judges, four judges voluntarily resigned while complaints against them were pending, and seven cases from 2012 are pending.

The remaining complaints were dismissed or, in one case, withdrawn by the person who filed the complaint.

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Brown reported from Billings.

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