Montana's top law-enforcement official has called a 30-day rape sentence handed down by a district judge last week "illegal" and filed an appeal Wednesday with the state supreme court.
The notice, filed by the Montana attorney general, was a legal maneuver intended to preserve the state's legal right to appeal the sentence while prosecutors -- for procedural reasons -- ask District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Billings to call off a Friday hearing the judge had called to readdress the sentence.
Baugh has come under local and national criticism after sentencing former teacher Stacey Rambold, 54, to a month in prison for raping a then-14-year-old student who later killed herself.
Baugh technically sentenced Rambold to a 15-year sentence, but then suspended all but 31 days of the sentence, with a credit for a single day already served in jail. In remarks on the case, Baugh called Rambold's victim "older than her chronological age."
After the victim's mother blasted the sentence and hundreds of demonstrators massed in Billings last week to protest, Baugh then reversed course. The judge said Tuesday he would hold another hearing to reevaluate Rambold's sentence, adding that state law appears to require a two-year mandatory minimum prison term. That hearing will be on Friday.
“In the Court's opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” Baugh wrote Tuesday.
But the state's attorney general, citing procedural restrictions, wants Baugh to call off the hearing so the state's supreme court can weigh in on the issue.
“We believe that the sentence Judge Baugh imposed on Stacey Rambold is illegal,” Montana Atty. Gen. Tim Fox said in a statement Wednesday. “Using the means provided by state law, we are appealing his sentence and working diligently to ensure that justice is served.”
The attorney general's office, working in conjunction with the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office, added in a statement that it believes "Montana law is clear" that the sentence can be fixed only by an appeal to the state's highest court.
Marian Bradley, state president of the Montana National Organization for Women -- and one of the organizers of last week's protest -- told the Los Angeles Times she was "very happy" the attorney general's office was getting involved.
“I think the appeal process may take some time, so my hope is that they find a way to keep Mr. Rambold in jail, in protective custody, while this appeal is happening," Bradley said.
Bradley said she would continue to call for Baugh's removal from the bench.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.