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Editorial: Apology Not Accepted; Montana Judge Should Resign

The apology by a Montana judge for his appallingly ignorant comments that blamed the young victim of the man being sentenced for her rape is meaningless. It is also as insulting as his original remarks. That’s because worse than the comments were the scant 30 days in jail for the rapist, an absurd sentence that the judge has continued to defend as appropriate.

“It wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape,” said Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh as he stood by his sentence of a former high school teacher, convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide. So ill-suited is this judge to serve on the bench that, if he refuses the mounting calls for his resignation, Montana authorities should take the necessary action to remove him. They also should seek to appeal the sentence.

An immediate uproar followed last Monday’s sentencing of Stacey Dean Rambold in Yellowstone County District Court. He had pleaded guilty to a felony count of sexual intercourse without consent. Judge Baugh said that, after reviewing statements made by the girl before her death, he concluded she was a troubled youth. Cherice Morales, who was 14 when the then 49-year-old Rambold groomed her for sex, was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher, the judge said.

The sentence in the 2008 case came after prosecutors refiled charges because Rambold failed to meet sex-offender treatment requirements and other conditions in an original plea deal. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Rambold to 20 years, with 10 years suspended; the girl’s mother, who testified that the rape was a major factor in her daughter’s 2010 suicide, pleaded for a prison sentence. The mother stormed from the courtroom when the sentence was announced, later issuing a statement that gave poignant testimony to the fallacy of blaming the victim: “She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.”

“I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct,” the judge said in a mea culpa issued to the Billings Gazette on Wednesday. He said he would file an addendum to the court file to “hopefully better explain the sentence.” Actually, Montana residents, along with much of the nation, know all they need to know about this case and this judge. His parsing of the sexual exploitation of a troubled teenager by a teacher in a position of trust as not a “forcible, beat-up rape” — and his sentence of a mere 30 days — sent the message that this is a crime that is not to be taken all that seriously. Baugh’s ignorant notions about rape and his insensitivity to victims are an absolute affront to justice, and he should immediately resign.

The Washington Post