BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana's Supreme Court on Friday blocked a judge from resentencing a former teacher who got 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old student, a sentence widely criticized after the judge said the victim was "older than her chronological age."
Justices said Judge G. Todd Baugh lacked authority to impose a new sentence on former Billings teacher Stacey Rambold, 54.
An appeal of the case already was pending from prosecutors who contend Rambold should serve two years, at a minimum. But Baugh had sought to undo the sentence on his own after his remarks triggered a public backlash and calls for his resignation.
Rambold's victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide in 2010 while the case was pending. Baugh commented at Rambold's Aug. 26 sentencing that she was "as much in control of the situation as was the defendant."
The Supreme Court intervention came in response to an emergency petition from the Attorney General's Office to stop Baugh's plans for a Friday afternoon resentencing. The state had warned Baugh's plans could throw the case into disarray and "cause gross injustice to an orderly appeal."
Less than an hour before the hearing was to begin, the high court ordered Baugh to cancel it and enter a written sentence for Rambold so the appeal process could proceed.
Court records show Baugh submitted two signed judgments on Friday: One calling for a two-year prison term for Rambold — with a note at the bottom saying it was withdrawn given the Supreme Court order — and a second that matched his original oral pronouncement for a 30 day term.
Appearing in his courtroom about the time the hearing was scheduled to begin, Baugh told a group of reporters that he stuck with his original, oral judgment in order to comply with the court order.
The judge also seemed to affix some degree of blame for the original sentence on prosecutors, because they did not immediately raise objections to his actions at the Aug. 26 hearing.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said in response that his office had sought 20 years in prison for Rambold with 10 years suspended, and it was up to the judge to make a final determination that day.
Activists who pushed for Baugh to resign or be removed from the bench said Friday that those efforts would continue.
"He took no responsibility, no ownership. He blamed the state, blamed the prosecutor," said Marian Bradley, president of the Montana National Organization for Women. She said his earlier comments "tell women it's not OK to step forward, because even if you do, you could be knocked down by a judge."