Rights activists protest award for ex-Montana judge who blamed victim of rape

Reuters News
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Posted: May 29, 2015 11:07 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A small group of women's rights activists rallied in Montana on Friday to protest a lifetime achievement award for a state judge censured for suggesting that a 14-year-old girl was partly to blame for her rape by a teacher.

More than two dozen protesters led by the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women attended the candlelight vigil outside the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings where former state District Judge G. Todd Baugh was to be given the annual award by a local bar association, said Marian Bradley, regional NOW head.

The event was to memorialize the teen student, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her 2007 sexual assault by a high school instructor came to light, and to honor all victims of rape, Bradley said.

Baugh retired from the bench in December after being censured by the state's high court for undermining public confidence in the judiciary by remarking that Moralez was "as much in control of the situation" as former teacher Stacey Rambold.

The remarks and a 31-day prison sentence for Rambold ignited public outrage and led to a finding by Montana justices that state law required a sentence of at least four years for a defendant convicted of assaulting a victim under the age of 16.

The decision by the Yellowstone Bar Association to honor Baugh at the museum brought a flurry of online and telephone protests directed at the group. The association's board last month released a statement defending its choice.

"While we recognize that Judge Baugh made a very public mistake ... we feel his more than 30 years of service to our community and our profession is worthy of recognition," board members said.

Bradley said the award was disrespectful toward victims of sexual assault, some of whom spoke at Friday's rally.

"The bar association and Baugh want to ignore the suffering endured by rape victims; we do not," she said in a telephone interview.

Rambold in September was re-sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2013 to the rape of Moralez, who committed suicide in 2010 before the case could go to trial.

The bar association and Baugh could not be reached for comment on Friday evening.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Nick Macfie)