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Judge who sentenced rapist to 30 days faces suspension

BILLINGS, Mont. - A Montana judge who said a 14-year-old rape victim appeared "older than her chronological age" will be publicly censured and given a 31-day suspension without pay for his misconduct in the case, the Montana Supreme Court said in a Wednesday order.

Justices said Judge G. Todd Baugh of Billings eroded confidence in the court system with his actions in the case of convicted rapist and former teacher Stacey Dean Rambold.

"There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them," Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote.

Baugh, 72, was ordered to appear before the court July 1 for the public censure.

The judge, who is the son of former Washington Redskins quarterback "Slingin" Sammy" Baugh, sent Rambold to prison for just 30 days last year after he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent. Prosecutors appealed, and the state Supreme Court in April ordered a new sentencing in the case by a different judge.

Under Montana law, children under 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.

Baugh has apologized for his actions and said he plans to retire when his term expires in December after three decades on the bench. He drew widespread condemnation for suggesting the victim shared responsibility for her rape, including protests and a petition seeking his resignation.

A formal complaint was filed in February by the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, leading to Wednesday's ruling by the high court.

Rambold was a 47-year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the crime. Victim Cherice Moralez was one of his students. She committed suicide while the case was pending trial.

Her mother, Auliea Hanlon, said Wednesday that the high court's punishment for the judge was "better than nothing."

"It's better than a poke in the eye," Hanlon said. "I'm sure he regrets it, so there's not anything I could do about it either way."

Baugh previously consented to a censure by the court but not suspension. The order on Wednesday gives him 15 days to withdraw his consent to the suspension. That would return the matter to the judicial commission for formal proceedings.

Along with his comments in the case, which were made during Rambold's August sentencing hearing, Baugh was criticized by the court for handing down an illegal sentence.

The judge attempted to reverse the sentence in the days that followed -- a move that was blocked by the state Supreme Court. Justices chided him for nevertheless holding a hearing in September in which Baugh sought to explain the lenient sentence given to Rambold by saying it "wasn't this forcible, beat-up rape."

Wednesday's order drew a dissenting opinion from Justice Laurie McKinnon She questioned the court's decision to hand down a punishment that exceeded the judicial commission's recommendation of censure or reprimand.

While agreeing that Baugh's statements were improper, McKinnon said the court should not reply to the public outcry over the case with increased sanctions.

Rambold has been free since last fall after serving out his original sentence -- 15 years in prison, but with all but one month suspended. After his release, Rambold registered as a sex offender and was to remain on probation through 2028.

On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court denied a request from Rambold's attorneys for a new hearing. The lawyers had argued the one month Rambold already served in Montana State Prison was sufficient.

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