Montana judge to retire, sparked controversy with short rape sentence

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(CNN) — A Montana judge, who drew a firestorm of criticism after sentencing a former high school teacher to a month behind bars for raping a 14-year-old girl, is going to retire at the end of the year.

Judge G. Todd Baugh told CNN affiliate KTVQ his decision is unrelated to the controversy involving Stacey Dean Rambold. Yellowstone County District Court judge came under fire in last year when he ordered Rambold to serve 31 days in jail and more than 14 years on probation for the rape of the student who later committed suicide.

In December, Baugh defended his decision, calling it “the right kind of sentence.”

“If the Rambold thing was the only factor, I wouldn’t retire for that,” he said Monday. “I’m 72-years-old, I guess I can retire.”

Baugh was first elected in 1984 and is completing his fifth, six-year term as a district court judge, KTVQ reported.

Retirement will “allow me to spend a little more time with my grandchild and friends, and maybe even get in a few more rounds of golf,” he said. “God willing, I won’t drive (my wife) Linda crazy.”

The controversy

There is a pending complaint against him before the state Judicial Standards Commission

In his response to the complaint, Baugh has acknowledged making controversial remarks about victim Cherise Morales at Rambold’s sentencing in August. According to the Montana Attorney General’s Office, the judge said she looked older than her years and was “probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.”

Morales committed suicide in February 2010.

“I am sorry I made those remarks,” the judge wrote in his November 15 response. “They focused on the victim when that aspect of the case should have been focused on the defendant.”

Baugh said he weighed all relevant factors in passing sentence.

“The defendant’s last legal or moral transgression was the crime he committed and admitted,” he wrote. “In the ensuing almost six years, he had legally and morally good conduct, he was reinstated in sex offender treatment and the undisputed evidence supported community placement and treatment.”

The length of the sentence, Baugh’s comments and the age disparity between defendant and victim drew criticism and a firestorm of media attention.

The Montana Attorney General’s Office in November appealed the 31-day sentence, saying it did not meet the state’s mandatory minimum sentence.

Rambold had sexual relations with Morales in fall 2007, when she was 14 and a student in one of his classes at Billings Senior High in Billings, Montana. She confided in a church group leader and Rambold was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

By Ed Payne, CNN

CNN’s Ralph Ellis and Kyung Lah contributed to this report.

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