Next month, less than a year after he was censured by the Montana Supreme Court for comments he made while sentencing a man who raped a 14-year-old girl, retired District Judge G. Todd Baugh will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Yellowstone Area Bar Association.
Marian Bradley, president of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women, said there is “something absolutely wrong” with members of the local bar giving Baugh the award.
“Do they not have respect for the women and children of this community?” she said. “This is outrageous.”
Jessica Fehr, president of the local bar, responded to a request for comment with a terse email, saying: “At this point, the YABA Board has no comment and stands by its decision.”
Asked again to comment, she did elaborate a bit, saying that the lifetime achievement award is given annually, and that nominations for the award are made by the general membership to the YABA executive board, which then votes on nominations. She did not say who specifically nominated Baugh.
Asked if any members of the local bar raised concerns about giving the award to Baugh, she responded, “To date, I have not received any correspondence from a YABA member commenting on the award.”
News of the award went out to bar members in the association’s April newsletter. It said Baugh would receive the award at the association’s annual dinner on May 29 at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Baugh could not be reached for comment.
District Judge Russell Fagg, one of Baugh’s longtime colleagues on the Yellowstone County bench, said he thinks most members of the local bar would agree with him that Baugh deserves the award.
“He had a wonderful career,” Fagg said. “He made a mistake, and I think the bar understands you can’t judge a career by one mistake. Overall, he was a kind, thoughtful, caring person.”
Baugh was censured by the state high court last July for his comments during the 2013 sentencing of Stacey Dean Rambold, who was a 47-year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High when he raped Cherice Moralez, a student of his, in 2007. Just before her 17th birthday in 2010, while charges against Rambold were still pending, Moralez committed suicide. Rambold later pleaded guilty in the case.
Baugh was vilified across the country after he sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended. During the sentencing, he said the 14-year-old victim was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her abuser.
After his remarks went viral and sparked public protests in Billings and other cities, Baugh apologized for his comments and acknowledged that his lenient sentence in the case violated state law. He tried to modify the sentence retroactively, but the state Supreme Court ruled that he could not revise a sentence he’d already handed down.
After the Supreme Court overturned Baugh’s sentence, another district judge sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison with five years suspended. Baugh, who had earlier said he intended to seek another six-year term on the bench, retired in December 2014, having served 30 years as a judge.
When Baugh was censured by the Supreme Court last July, Chief Justice Mike McGrath said Baugh’s “comments in open court in this case disregarded longstanding Montana law that a person under the age of 16 is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse.”
McGrath also said Baugh’s attempts to change his sentence was contrary to state law and that statements he made trying to justify his earlier comments were inappropriate.
Through all those actions, McGrath said, Baugh “has eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety, therefore violating the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct. He has caused Montana citizens, as well as others, to question the fairness of our justice system and whether prejudice or bias affected the outcome of the Rambold case. There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them.”
The public censure marked the first time since 2005 that the Supreme Court had censured a Montana judge.
Sheena Rice, with the Montana Organizing Project, helped set up a rally on the courthouse lawn in August 2013 to protest Baugh’s remarks and his lenient sentencing of Rambold.
She said Thursday that she’d heard rumors about the lifetime achievement award, and “honestly, I was a little shocked. This is a judge that the Montana Supreme Court basically said, ‘you lost the public’s trust.’ It doesn’t seem like someone with that on their resume should get a lifetime achievement award.”
Bradley, with the Montana chapter of NOW, said the bar’s decision to salute Baugh “makes me wonder what attorneys in our community would support the Stacey Rambolds and Judge Baughs of this world … . I think the bar association maybe needs to rethink who gets their award.”
Rice, who is also a founding member of Justice4Cherice, which is dedicated to ending victim-blaming language in Montana rape cases, said no decision has been made yet on whether to protest the bar association decision.
“The word is still getting out, so we’ll have to wait and see,” she said.
Fagg, for his part, said, “I’m glad we have the right to protest in this country, but I think those protesters should look at the big picture. And the big picture is his (Baugh’s) lifetime of caring for the victims of crime.”