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Court bars judge from halting rape sentence

– 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 sentencing Aug. 26 that she was “as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.”

The state 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 that 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 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judgments on Friday: One calling for a two-year prison term for Rambold – with a note at the bottom saying it was withdrawn given the Supreme Court order – and a second that matched his original oral pronouncement for a 30-day term.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.

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