BILLINGS — The mother of a 14-year-old rape victim said a Montana judge was “covering his butt” after he apologized for saying her daughter was “older than her chronological age,” as prosecutors said Thursday that the judge may have erred in giving the rapist only 30 days in prison.
The comments from District Judge G. Todd Baugh in a case involving a teacher raping a student have drawn widespread condemnation from across the country.
The 71-year-old judge attempted to quiet the firestorm with his Wednesday apology, but calls for his resignation resounded during a Thursday rally on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse.
The victim’s mother Auliea (ah-LEE-ah) Hanlon rejected Baugh’s apology because he has continued to stand by his decision to give a relatively light sentence to former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Rambold.
“He’s just covering his butt. He wouldn’t have said anything if people hadn’t spoken up,” Hanlon told an Associated Press reporter. “He didn’t reverse his decision, so it’s irrelevant.”
Hanlon’s daughter, Cherice Moralez, killed herself before Rambold’s case came to trial.
Billings Public Schools Superintendent Terry Bouck has described Rambold’s actions with Moralez in 2007 as “repugnant.” He said the months-long relationship between teacher and student was grossly inappropriate.
A legal review of Monday’s sentencing suggests Rambold may have gotten off too easily.
That review determined that if Baugh had applied the proper section of state law, the defendant would have received a minimum of two years in prison, according to a memo sent by Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito to the appellate division of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Prosecutors originally sought a 20-year sentence with 10 years suspended. Baugh’s sentence ordered Rambold to serve 15 years, with all but 31 days suspended and a one day credit for time already served.
The state has 20 days to appeal the sentence. Twito said he’s working with the appellate division to decide whether to take that step.
“It will be looked at and reviewed carefully before any action or any decision is made,” Twito said.
Baugh has said he does not intend to resign, but “deserved to be chastised” for his comments about the victim.
The judge also said during Monday’s sentencing hearing that Moralez had as much control of the situation as Rambold.
He later told reporters that what he said was wrong, irrelevant to the case, demeaning of women and not reflective of his beliefs.
Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since without an opponent. Originally from Texas, he is the son of legendary NFL quarterback Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins.
He said he has not decided whether to run again in 2014 but has no intention of resigning.
Baugh said the sentence was based on Rambold’s violation of an earlier deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. He plans to file a further explanation for the sentence with the court.
“The public doesn’t exactly understand how that came about,” Baugh said, adding that it’s not unusual in his experience for people to disagree with criminal sentences.
Regarding Thursday’s rally he said only that the protesters were within their rights to peaceably assemble and air their grievances.
Rally organizer Sheena Rice said protesters will seek to defeat Baugh if he runs again.
The rally packed the courthouse lawn with hundreds of people, many carrying signs such as “Justice for Cherice” and “Baugh Needs to Resign.”
Protester Pete Taylor, a 51-year-old head waiter at a local restaurant, sported a t-shirt on which he’d written “14 is 14.”
“What (Baugh) did and what he said was so out of step with Billings,” Taylor said. “The young girl was not young enough to make decisions for herself.”
Joining in the backlash against the judge was Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, who said Baugh’s comments “made me angry.” But Bullock added that he has no authority over the judge and any complaints against him would be handled by the state Judicial Standards Commission.