A Montana judge at the center of a firestorm for giving a 30-day sentence to a teacher who admitted raping a 14-year-old girl has been under scrutiny before.
Last month, the state’s Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education criticized Yellowstone County District Judge G. Todd Baugh for dismissing what would have been a woman’s 13th conviction for driving under the influence.
Petitions calling for Baugh’s resignation flooded the Internet this week after he passed up a chance to impose a tough sentence on Stacey Dean Rambold, a former high school teacher.
The teen, who was 14 when Rambold had a sexual relationship with her in 2008, committed suicide in 2010, as the case made its way through the courts.
After her death, prosecutors offered to dismiss the charges if Rambold admitted to one charge of rape, completed a sex offender treatment program and met other requirements.
But Rambold failed to tell his counselors about relationships he had with women, a violation of his deal. So his case was revived and it was up to Baugh to decide on a punishment.
Prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence with 10 years suspended, court documents show. But the judge followed the recommendation of the defense, which called for a sentence of 15 years, with all but 30 days suspended.
It was the second controversial ruling Baugh has handed down in as many months.
In July, a 55-year-old woman from Billings was facing what would have been her 13th conviction for drunken driving, but struck a plea deal to avoid that outcome.
Baugh, according to local reports, handed her a three-year suspended sentence for felony criminal endangerment.
The commissioner of higher education said the “most shocking” thing about the case was Baugh’s words to the woman: “If you drink and drive and kill someone, you will spend some real time in prison,” the judge said, according to the commissioner.
In the most recent case, the mother of the teen, Auliea Hanlon, called the short sentence for Rambold a “travesty.”
Hanlon said she was particularly upset that Baugh said her daughter “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher.
Baugh apologized on Wednesday.
“I made some references to the victim’s age and control,” he told CNN affiliate KTVQ. “I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say at that point, but it didn’t come out correct. What I said was demeaning to all women, not what I believe in and irrelevant to the sentencing.”
About the sentencing itself, Baugh said he would file an addendum to the case file to “better explain” his rationale.
Baugh, 71, the oldest son of Washington Redskins’ legendary quarterback Sammy Baugh, grew up on a family farm in Rotan, Texas, with four siblings, according to a 2008 Montana Standard article.
In the story, which was written after Baugh’s father’s death at age 94, the judge told the newspaper he moved to Montana in the 1960s to practice law before seeking a spot on the bench.
Baugh has served as a judge in Yellowstone County since 1984. He was an attorney in Billings and served as a U.S. magistrate before running for district court judge.
The judge has imposed tough sentences in rape cases before.
In September 2011, Baugh sentenced a 26-year-old man to 100 years in prison, with 50 years suspended, for the rape of an 11-year-old boy.
In that case, the man had met the boy at a video store and later met him at school and lured him to an empty irrigation ditch, according to local reports at the time.
In August 2012, the judge sentenced a 23-year-old man to 56 years in prison, with 31 years suspended, for possessing child pornography that included images of children under age 12. State law mandated a minimum of 25 years for such crimes. The Billings Gazette reported that the defendant also admitted to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, for which Baugh sentenced him to a concurrent 10-year term.
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