The Montana Supreme Court has finally restored some sense of order to the judicial circus run by Judge G. Todd Baugh of the 13th Judicial District Court in the state. As outrage grew, the state’s highest court ruled last Friday that Judge Baugh did not have the authority to change his mind on the ridiculous 30-day sentence he gave to the convicted rapist of a 14-year-old. Instead, the Supreme Court will therefore hear the arguments on appeal.
Do not miss what happened here. Judicial activism is alive and well. Although the term “judicial activist” has been so misused in recent years that many believe it just means a judge with whom you disagree, the fact is that judicial activism is real, and Judge Baugh is a prime example.
Baugh had scheduled an illegal hearing to “reconsider” his illegal sentence but had to cancel it less than an hour before as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision. Still, his shameful comments continued. The local NBC station reported he said everything “could have been avoided altogether if I’d been more alert or if the state had pointed out to the court the correct mandatory minimum”. So, you see, it’s really the prosecutor’s fault.
One hopes the people of Montana are paying attention. Judge Baugh is up for re-election in 2014, and he must go.
The unbelievable facts of the case are not in question. Stacey Dean Rambold, then 49 and a teacher at Billings Senior High School, had sexual relations on at least three occasions with 14-year-old student Cherice Moralez. When the abuse was discovered, Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. The age of consent in Montana is 16.
But as the case made its way through the legal system, Cherice committed suicide. Cherice’s mother places much of the blame on the abuse she suffered at the hands of Rambold.
With Cherice’s death, the prosecutors were left without their main “witness,” so they entered into a very weak plea agreement where Rambold admitted to one of the counts and agreed to undergo treatment along with certain restrictions. But not content to get away with only that, Rambold violated the restrictions that were imposed and was, therefore, before Judge Baugh to be sentenced.
The Montana Code (section 45-5-503) is clear: “A person convicted of sexual intercourse without consent shall be punished by life imprisonment or by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of not less than 2 years or more than 100 years. …” So the two-year minimum was very clear. Yet, Judge Baugh felt compelled to impose a ludicrous 30-day sentence.
You see, Judge Baugh felt bad for Rambold. Not the girl. Rambold. Not for the family, who lost their teenage daughter, but for the abuser. After all, Judge Baugh said the girl “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.
Let me repeat that. According to this judge, the 14-year-old student was as much in control of this sexual relationship as the 49-year-old teacher. Crazy!
The law is clear, and the intent of the law is crystal clear. The code actually says that, “If the victim is less than 16 years old and the offender is 4 or more years older than the victim … the offender shall be punished by life imprisonment or by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of not less than 4 years or more than 100 years…” The victim here was 14, and Rambold was 35 years older.
The people of Montana have said through their legislature that this crime is so heinous that no matter what the circumstances are, if you take advantage of a minor in this way, you will not get away with it. The people have said, through their laws, that it doesn’t matter that “she looked older” – which by the way is a bunch of nonsense on the judge’s part because this predator was a teacher; he knew how old she was.
Mandatory minimums are not always the best approach to crime, but in the case of the sexual abuse of children the people of Montana got it absolutely right.
But Judge Baugh disagreed with the people of Montana. He believes there are circumstances that do not always warrant such hard sentences, and so he ignored the law to bring about what he thinks is a “just” sentence.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the textbook definition of judicial activism – a judge who operates not on what the law is, but on what he believes the law should be. Such a philosophy has no place on the bench.
Neither do judges who favor sexual predators. Let this serve as warning to any judge who depart from sentencing guidelines to be more lenient to pedophiles. Those decisions will not remain in the dark; they will be exposed, and they will follow you. The half-a-million members of Concerned Women of America are watching and will make sure of it. Ask Robert Chatigny.
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