State asks high court to block rape case hearing

AP News
Posted: Sep 05, 2013 9:20 PM
State asks high court to block rape case hearing

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana's attorney general on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to block a judge's attempt to resentence a former Montana teacher convicted of raping a student.

The Attorney General's Office said District Judge G. Todd Baugh lacks the authority to change the 30-day prison sentence he gave to defendant Stacey Rambold last month for the 2007 rape of a 14-year-old student at Billings Senior High School.

Baugh's office said late Thursday he intends to proceed with Friday's resentencing. The 71-year-old judge has faced intense public criticism over the original sentence and for suggesting the 14-year-old victim had as much control over the relationship as Rambold.

The girl committed suicide in 2010 while the case was pending.

The judge has since called his comments "stupid" and said the sentence might have been illegal. But an appeal of his sentence already is pending, and both prosecutors and the defense say only the Montana Supreme Court has the power to fix any mistakes Baugh made at the sentencing.

Thursday's emergency petition from the Montana Attorney General's Office asked justices to block a hearing that state attorneys said would "cause a gross injustice."

"The September 6 hearing, if permitted to be conducted, will undermine the state's appeal and otherwise frustrate the just and orderly administration of ordinary appeal processes," the petition said.

Prosecutors have said that under state law Rambold should serve at least two years. Rambold's attorney agrees the judge lacks authority to amend the sentence, but contends 30 days in prison was appropriate.

Almost 15 years of additional prison time for Rambold were suspended but could be reinstated if he violates his sentence's probationary terms.

Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since without an opponent. He's up for re-election in 2014.

Baugh has said it was appropriate for Rambold to receive the minimum sentence required. He has described the former teacher as a low-risk offender with no prior record who spent more than two years in a sex-offender treatment program.

Rambold entered that program in 2010, after Moralez's suicide left prosecutors without their main witness in the case shortly before it was scheduled to go to trial.

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That led to a deferred prosecution agreement that allowed Rambold to avoid trial until he violated the terms of the deal last year, for not reporting that he was in a sexual relationship with a woman and for unauthorized visits with family members' children.

Baugh appeared to sympathize with the defendant during his Aug. 26 sentencing hearing, when the judge said Moralez was "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation as was the defendant."

After the remarks sparked outrage, the judge said Rambold's sentence was based on the defendant's violation of a 2010 deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. Baugh also said his statements about Moralez were "irrelevant" and did not factor into his sentence.

Activists say 45,000 people have signed a petition seeking Baugh's resignation and that a formal complaint against him will be filed with the state Judicial Standards Commission.