Gazette opinion: Judge’s response fortifies case for discipline

2014-07-03T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T15:27:07Z Gazette opinion: Judge’s response fortifies case for discipline The Billings Gazette
July 03, 2014 12:00 am

When Yellowstone County District Judge G. Todd Baugh responded to the Montana Supreme Court last week, he admitted responsibility for imposing “the wrong mandatory minimum” sentence on Stacey Rambold.

Baugh went on to say that he “had no intent to stereotype women and girls or to disparage the law, the victim or anyone else.”

If that was the totality of his response to the court’s order for public censure and a one-month suspension from the bench, there would be reason to hope that the judge understood the harm that his errors in one case have caused the judiciary.

Unfortunately, Baugh continued, blaming the defense attorney for referencing the “wrong part” of the law and the prosecutor for not correcting the defense assertion.

And the judge blamed the media, using that last resort of public officials who said things they shouldn’t have: claiming to have been quoted out of context. As most Gazette readers know, the context was the sentencing of Rambold for having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl who was his high school student at the time. Rambold committed rape under Montana law.

Baugh faulted the media for not reporting the “whole truth” in reporting that Cherice Morales, committed suicide before the case went to trial. Baugh wrote that “there was no evidence before the court at or before sentencing that indicated that the victim committed suicide because of the crime.”

Whatever other troubles that young girl may have had, to suggest that Rambold’s crimes weren’t a factor in her suicide is incomprehensible. Baugh also cites in his defense “the whole truth” that the case was set for trial three times “before her demise.” The most important truth is a young girl died while the trial was postponed repeatedly, dragging out her trauma of potentially testifying.

In his four-page response, Baugh told the Supreme Court that he will accept its discipline, although he disagrees with the suspension, which goes beyond what was recommended by the Judicial Standards Commission. We agree with the suspension; it goes beyond a public scolding and it’s appropriate: 31 days without pay for the judge who sentenced a child rapist to 31 days in prison.

Baugh wrote that more than seven Yellowstone County residents have told him the “dignity, honor and impartiality of the courts haven’t been negatively impacted by his conduct.” We have no doubt that some folks support Baugh, whose long tenure in the District Court included years of commendable service. But we believe many more are outraged by his offensive remarks about the young victim, his inappropriate explanations for what he said, the incomprehensibly lenient sentence and his illegal attempt to resentence Rambold.

The Supreme Court censure is scheduled for 1 p.m. on July 22 in Helena. Baugh’s suspension will start on Dec. 1, and Yellowstone County will welcome the new district judge elected on Nov. 4. This is a sad way to end a long legal career and a sorry chapter in Montana judicial proceedings.

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