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Montana top court sanctions judge for 30-day rape sentence

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday censured a judge and suspended him for 31 days for improperly suggesting a 14-year-old girl was culpable in her rape and unlawfully sentencing the former teacher convicted of the crime to just a month in jail.

State District Judge G. Todd Baugh was silent after Montana's chief justice read aloud a censure statement at a brief hearing Tuesday in Helena. Women's rights activists have been seeking Baugh's ouster for almost a year.

In court documents, Baugh admitted responsibility for imposing a lenient sentence on Stacey Rambold for the 2007 sexual assault of Cherice Moralez, but said his own punishment by the Supreme Court was excessive.

Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended, and credit for one day served, during the hearing in August 2013.

During the proceedings he remarked that the teenage victim, who committed suicide before the case could be prosecuted, had been "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher who was 47 when he raped her.

Montana justices said Baugh's actions undermined public confidence in the judiciary and that state law requires a sentence of at least four years for a defendant guilty of raping a victim under the age of 16.

In April the court overturned Rambold's prison sentence and ordered a different judge preside over resentencing set for September.

Baugh has said he intends to retire when his term expires at the end of this year. He came under scrutiny again last month after he asked a fast-food worker convicted of vandalism why he could not get a "real job" in order to pay restitution to victims.

Marian Bradley, president of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), praised Tuesday's decision.

"We are pleased the Montana Supreme Court has censured and suspended G. Todd Baugh and that it is doing what it can to protect women, children and families," she said.

Montana NOW led the effort to see Baugh punished, arguing in a complaint filed with a state panel that oversees jurists that his treatment of Moralez, who was Hispanic, showed gender and racial bias.

Bradley said the organization is examining other cases that raise questions about Baugh's judgments.

"We will review those cases and see where it takes us," she said.

Baugh did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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