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Montana judge, blasted for 1-month rape sentence, to retire

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Montana judge who came under fire for sentencing a former teacher to a month in prison for raping a 14-year-old student who later killed herself is set to retire at the end of this year, a court administrator said on Tuesday.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh, whose term expires at the end of 2014, has decided not to file for re-election, according to Becky Bird, district court administrator in Billings.

Bird did not give a reason for Baugh's decision, and the judge's assistant said he declined to comment.

Baugh, 72, sparked public outrage last year by imposing a sentence of 30 days on former Billings high school teacher Stacey Rambold, 54, for the 2007 rape of Cherice Moralez.

The outcry from women's groups was further inflamed by Baugh's remarks during a sentencing hearing in which he said the teenager seemed older than her years and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as her teacher.

The state attorney general has appealed for a longer sentence to the Montana Supreme Court, and several groups had sought Baugh's ouster.

Marian Bradley, head of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women, tied Baugh's decision to retire to the controversy sparked by the sentence and his remarks.

"This is a victory. It sends a message to judges that people can make a difference, that we are watching and you will not get away with something that is morally wrong and blames victims for being sexually assaulted," she said.

Bradley said Montana NOW would not give up its fight to see Baugh censured by the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, a panel tasked with ensuring state jurists abide by legal, ethical and conduct codes.

JUDGE HAS APOLOGIZED

Women's rights activists had argued in a complaint to the commission that Baugh showed gender and racial bias against Moralez, who was Hispanic. The judge has admitted he violated judicial codes by suggesting the girl was partly to blame for the rape, but has denied any bias against the victim.

"Again, I am sorry I made those remarks," Baugh said in a letter to the commission last year. It was not immediately clear what repercussions Baugh could face if he is censured.

An attorney for Moralez's mother, Auliea Hanlon, did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment.

Rambold was charged in 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the state's equivalent of a rape charge, linked to Moralez, a student in a technology class he taught at Senior High School in Billings. The charges stemmed from a 2007 assault of Moralez in Rambold's home.

Moralez killed herself in 2010 before the case could go to trial, crippling a prosecution that hinged on her testimony.

In a deal with prosecutors later that year, Rambold pleaded guilty to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent. In exchange, prosecutors postponed the case and agreed to dismiss it if he completed sex offender treatment.

The case was reinstated after Rambold was dismissed from a treatment program for violating its rules.

Prosecutors had sought a 20-year prison term for Rambold with half of it suspended. Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years and then suspended all but 31 days of that term. Rambold, who was suspended from his teaching post in 2008 and later resigned, received credit for one day served.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Amanda Kwan)

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