After sentencing a former Billings teacher to 30 days in jail for rape last week, Yellowstone District Judge G. Todd Baugh said the 14-year-old victim was “older than her chronological age ” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her perpetrator. The judge apologized. But the backlash was swift and the damage was done.
Following the comment, a coworker mentioned that Baugh had essentially given teenagers a pass for a variety of crimes. If they are caught drinking or smoking or skipping school, the kids could argue: “Judge, you have to understand, I’m older than my chronological age. I’m mature enough to make adult decisions.”
That argument doesn’t hold water. Nor does Baugh’s logic. In this tragedy, a girl who had a sexual relationship with her schoolteacher Stacey Rambold, now 54, killed herself a week before her 17th birthday while the case was pending. Following the sentence, on Aug. 26, the victim’s mother screamed, “you people suck” as she left the courtroom. Protestors gathered three days later near the Yellowstone County Courthouse.
While standing by his sentence, Baugh spent the days following the verdict apologizing for his courtroom comments to anyone who would listen. “What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing. My apologies to all my fellow citizens,” Baugh wrote in a letter to the Billings Gazette. He later told reporters that he had made “stupid remarks” and he “deserves to be chastised.”
And he has been from all corners of the country. There was an outpouring of opinions from major media outlets on why Baugh’s comments were horrible. They were, but his explanation for the lenient punishment was perhaps worse.
He said the general public probably is under the impression that “this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”
That doesn’t justify anything. There is a reason we have statutory rape laws on the books. They are there to protect kids who can’t protect themselves. And, in this case, the rapist was in a position of power – a teacher, who before the rape accusation had already been warned to avoid touching or being alone with female students. No, this isn’t the case of a senior in high school having a consensual sexual relationship with a freshman, although there is a good reason that is also illegal in Montana.
What’s also puzzling is that this case resulted in almost no jail time. The victim’s death caused problems for the prosecution and resulted in a three-year deferred prosecution; if Rambold had abided by the rules of his sex offender treatment program and complied by other conditions, the case would be closed.
“But Rambold broke terms of the agreement by associating with teens who were his relatives and by becoming sexually involved with an adult, but not notifying authorities,” the Gazette reported.
So Rambold was back in court. And prosecutors asked that he be sentenced to 10 years in prison, with an additional 10 years suspended. Baugh instead ruled that the former teacher, who had squandered his second chance, be handed a 15-year prison term with all time suspended except 31 days in jail. Rambold received credit for the one day he’d already served.
The victim’s mother was rightfully outraged. She and several others have called for his resignation. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Baugh’s comments “made me angry,” but added that any complaints would be handled by the state Judicial Standards Commission. Prosecutors say Rambold should have at least received two years in prison and are considering an appeal.
Baugh said he has no intention of resigning. He has run unopposed for the judgeship every six years since 1984. That should change if he decides to run next year.
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