A Montana judge's attempt to modify a 30-day prison sentence he gave a teacher convicted of raping a student was blocked Friday by the state's Supreme Court.
Four of the six justices on Montana's highest court ruled that District Judge G. Todd Baugh could not move forward with a resentencing hearing scheduled for Friday in a bid to void the sentence imposed last week on Stacey Rambold.
Rambold, 54, a Billings high school teacher, was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl, who killed herself in 2010 while the case was pending. When sentencing Rambold, Baugh said that the victim was "older than her chronological age," implying that she shared a degree of culpability.
Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison but suspended all but 31 days of the sentence, with a credit for a single day served in jail. The penalty violated the mandatory minimum sentence of two years.
On Friday, the 71-year-old judge complied with the Supreme Court's ruling and canceled the hearing, but he held what amounted to an impromptu news conference in his courtroom, according to witnesses.
"That [sentencing controversy] could have been avoided altogether if I had been more alert or if the state had pointed out to the court the correct mandatory minimum," Baugh said in a recording of the proceedings posted by the Billings Gazette.
Prosecutors applauded the Supreme Court's move, not because they condoned Rambold's original sentence, but on procedural grounds.
State Atty. Gen. Tim Fox filed an emergency petition this week to prohibit Friday's hearing, arguing that the "proper avenue to address the illegal sentence" is an appeal before the Supreme Court. On Friday he said his office planned to move forward with its appeal.
The victim's mother, Auliea Hanlon, was "grateful" for the Supreme Court's ruling, said her lawyer Shane Colton, adding that the prospect of a resentencing was a source of much anxiety.
Montana's chapter of the National Organization for Women has campaigned for the resignation of Baugh, who is up for reelection next year. Chapter President Marian Bradley said "several thousand" complaints had been filed with the state's Judicial Standards Commission.
"This man needs to be removed," Bradley said. "He appears to be incompetent."
The backlash is what apparently prompted the veteran judge to backpedal and schedule the resentencing hearing. In a court order issued this week, Baugh reasoned that his prior sentence was "illegal" because it ignored the mandatory minimum sentence.
Both prosecutors and Rambold's defense attorneys had objected to Baugh's attempt to undo his previous sentence.
Rambold's attorneys concurred with state prosecutors, maintaining that a new sentencing hearing was inappropriate, and said the previous sentence should remain in effect, according to court documents.
Rambold's attorneys would not comment on the Supreme Court's ruling.