HELENA — A Billings judge who faces suspension for saying a 14-year-old girl appeared "older than her chronological age" during her rapist's sentencing said he believes the penalty is unwarranted and proposed the Montana Supreme Court withdraw it.
Judge G. Todd Baugh suggested the court relied on incomplete media reports in ordering the 31-day suspension on top of the public censure recommended by the state Judicial Standards Commission. The sanctions were for comments Baugh made last year in sentencing Stacey Rambold to 30 days in prison — which the state Supreme Court found too lenient before assigning the case to another judge for re-sentencing.
He illustrated his point in a response filed Friday to the Supreme Court order by referring to news reports that said the victim committed suicide in 2010 before the case against Rambold, her former teacher, was tried.
There was no evidence the girl committed suicide because of the crime, Baugh wrote. The girl's mother has said the teen's death was driven largely by the rape.
"I do not fault the media for they, as do most businesses, present what their customers think they want. In today's world of the Internet, what the customer thinks he wants is 24/7, sensational sound bites, and that is what is provided," Baugh wrote. "So be it. However, for courts to rely on such is disconcerting, to say the least."
Baugh said he found no other cases in which the Supreme Court went beyond the recommendations from the Judicial Standards Commission, as it did in ordering his suspension in addition to the censure.
In addition, the Montana citizens with whom he's spoken believe his conduct had no negative affect on the court system, he wrote.
"If you see any merit in these observations, I will not object to you withdrawing the suspension," Baugh said.
But, he added, whatever the court decides, he will not withdraw the consent he previously gave to be disciplined.
"A famous man once said something like, 'From this day forward, I will fight no more forever,'" Baugh wrote, referring to a quote attributed to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe when he surrendered to U.S. troops in 1877. "I have some idea of what he may have thought."
Marian Bradley, president of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women, urged the Supreme Court to impose the punishment it ordered.
"The suspension sends a strong message to judges who continue to victim-blame and engage in rape myths," Bradley said.
A complaint filed with the Judicial Standards Commission led to its recommendation for censure, and the June 4 Supreme Court order added the suspension.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote in the order that Baugh had eroded confidence in the court system, and "there is no place for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them."
The judge previously apologized for his actions in sentencing Rambold for sexual intercourse without consent, and he plans to retire when his term expires in December.