Weekly Legal News 2/23/14

A Montana judge, who previously suggested a 14-year-old girl was to blame for being raped by her teacher, admitted on Tuesday that he violated judicial standards and invited censure from the state’s highest court. Then the judge, G. Todd Baugh, sentenced the former teacher, to just a month in prison for the 2007 sexual assault of the girl who later took her own life. A Montana panel sought to discipline him over his sentencing on his comments in which he stated the girl looked older than she truly was and that she was in control as much as the teacher was. Baugh, responded by agreeing that his comments violated judicial codes. The judge, however, rejected the commission’s description of the rape sentence as overly lenient. State prosecutors asked Montana justices to overturn the sentence, extending the teacher’s sentence. Many want him out of office, and he himself has said he will not run for re-election.

On Thursday, three Native American tribes are changing their justice systems. For forty years, a Supreme Court ruling has barred tribes from prosecuting non-Indian American defendants. Now however, as part of last year’s re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, tribes can try some non-Indian defendants in cases of domestic abuse. The Department of Justice selected these three tribes to exercise this first. These include the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, and the Tulalip Tribes, located north of Seattle. There was a push from several groups to protect Native women and they pled to Congress for solutions. 40% of American Indian or Alaskan Native descent have “experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner,” according to several studies. Many call this a “ray of hope” and a “new route for justice.”

A Virginia federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage this week. This is a growing trend as the fight for marriage equality targets more conservative states. It also shows that the strategy for winning marriage equality in federal courts is moving faster than expected. In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen said the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because “core civil rights are at stake.” She then compared the case to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling recognizing interracial marriage. While same-sex couples cannot get married yet, this is a significant step. The ruling follows another decision issued this week by a federal judge in Kentucky ordering officials there to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This ruling in Kentucky follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma. This week in Texas, a federal judge heard a challenge to the same-sex marriage ban in that state. Other conservative states such as Missouri and Alabama have also filed lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples in those states.

In Oklahoma, a pharmacy’s agreement not to provide drugs for an execution in Missouri represents a new challenge to lethal injections. Missouri suggests it will still be able to impose the ultimate punishment on murderer, Michael Taylor next week, but the latest litigation reveals the increasing difficulty states face in obtaining the chemicals needed to inject. Prisons have turned to pharmacies for the solutions because anti-death-penalty manufacturers have stopped selling to them. These pharmacies are becoming more hesitant as well but advocates suggest as long as long as the death penalty is constitutional, there will be a way. The International Association of Compounding Pharmacies says it has no “formal position” on its members supplying executions, saying it’s up to each druggist.

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