Attorneys for a former Montana teacher who raped a 14-year-old student argued Friday that his 30 days in prison were enough punishment, even as a judicial oversight panel sought the censure of the judge in the case over what it called an unlawful sentence.
Prosecutors want to send freed rapist Stacey Dean Rambold of Billings back to prison. They said in an appeal of his sentence that he should have served a minimum of four years after pleading guilty last year to sexual assault without consent.
In a legal brief that lays out their arguments against the state's appeal, lawyers for Rambold cited a "lynch mob" mentality following the huge public outcry over the case.
They suggested the girl bore some responsibility for the rape, and referenced videotaped interviews with her before she committed suicide while the case was pending. Those interviews remain under seal by the court.
"The citizens of Montana have determined that persons as young as 12 years of age will be held accountable and responsible for their actions in regard to certain types of sexual offenses," Rambold attorney Jay Lansing wrote. "There is no rational basis to conclude that if the person is 14 years of age, the person can only have responsibility if they are the offender."
Lansing also said the state missed its chance to appeal by not raising the issue during an August sentencing hearing.
The case gained notoriety after Judge G. Todd Baugh commented during Rambold's sentencing that the victim "appeared older than her chronological age" and "was probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant." The judge also has cited the video interviews.
Attorney Shane Colton, who represented the victim's estate in a wrongful death lawsuit, said the girl was too young to be complicit in the crime against her.
"It's my understanding that the state's law is at age 14 you cannot give consent, therefore you can't be complicit in any fashion," Colton said.
John Barnes, a spokesman for Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, said the state has 14 days to reply to Rambold's arguments and would have no immediate comment.
The latest turn in the case was sharply criticized as "more victim blaming" by Marian Bradley, president of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women.
"They are comparing the victim to a sex offender, and that's not OK. She was a victim, not a perpetrator," Bradley said.
Victim Cherice Moralez was a freshman when she was raped; Rambold, then 47, was her business teacher. She committed suicide in 2010 before the case went to trial, an act her mother said was driven largely by the rape.
The girl's death took away the prosecution's main witness, and Rambold initially avoided prosecution under a deferred prosecution agreement that included sex-offender treatment. He violated the agreement by having unauthorized visits with relatives' children and having a sexual relationship with an adult woman, according to court documents.
That re-opened the case and led to the sentence from Baugh of 15 years in prison with all but one month suspended. Rambold was released in September.
Montana's Judicial Standards Commission said this week that Baugh should be censured by the Montana Supreme Court for imposing an unlawful sentence and blaming the child victim. The panel investigated the case after receiving hundreds of complaints about the judge.
It's uncertain whether Baugh will have a public hearing. On Feb. 13, he waived his right to formal proceedings before the commission and submitted himself to justices for punishment.
He has apologized for his comments about Moralez and said he plans to retire when his current term expires at the end of the year.
Censure is defined by the commission as a public declaration by the high court that a judge is guilty of misconduct. It can be ordered in conjunction with other sanctions but does not require suspension or removal from office.