Fault Lines
29 June 2017

Dramarama In Nevada: Judge Bans Black Lives Matter Pin From Courtroom

September 22, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A dispute between a Las Vegas judge and a deputy public defender boiled over on Tuesday when the attorney refused to remove a Black Lives Matter lapel pin from her blouse. For his part, Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon dismisses accusations that he is unfairly targeting “BLM” symbols while leaving other personal political statements unchallenged.

“I’m asking the same thing of defense attorneys that I ask of anybody else,” Herndon said. “Please leave any kind of political or opinion protest statements outside the courtroom.”  The law is clear that the judge has the authority to direct an attorney to remove the pin, as are the rules of the court.

A court spokeswoman, Mary Ann Price, pointed to court rules of conduct making judges responsible for applying rules of decorum, proper attire and dignity.

Erika Ballou, the public defender at the epicenter of this controversy, not only refused to remove the pin in question, but went so far as asking Herndon to recuse himself from her case.

“I took an oath to support the Constitution, all of the Constitution,” Ballou said. “My oath is to protect everyone’s free speech, even if I disagree with it. I am not comfortable giving my case to someone else to handle. And I’m also not comfortable abridging my free speech.” Ballou was, however, comfortable allowing her personal politics to impair her representation of the defendant for whom she was appearing by refusing to comply with the court’s request at the expense of her client.

“Wear it in the hallway. Wear it in front of the courthouse,” Herndon added. “Demonstrate. Protest. Use your voice. But that’s not what dealing with justice on an individual case is about.”

Ballou told reporters on Tuesday that she wore a Bernie Sanders pin every day for about eight months, often inside the courthouse, and never faced any issues. She claims that she replaced “Bernie” with the “BLM” pin two months ago, and that no one brought it up with her until this week.

“I don’t think that this should be controversial. I believe that Black Lives Matter should be on the same line as breast cancer awareness,” Ballou told the Huffington Post on Tuesday.  Of course, Ballou is not the judge, and her views do not dictate what is permissible within Judge Herndon’s courtroom, particularly in light of the law, which fully supports the court. 

But last week the police union’s new executive director, Steve Grammas, sent the following letter last week to the chief state district court judge, David Barker.

Dear Judge Barker:

As the Executive Director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, I am writing you concerning attorneys and other citizens who display “Black Lives Matter” propaganda in court.

We have received complaints from our member officers who believe that such displays have no place in courtrooms in which justice is to be dispensed. We are certain that the courts would not allow similar public displays from citizens who believe that killers should be sentenced to death or that sexual predators should be castrated. While we embrace the First Amendment, we do not believe that such statements should be made in the halls of justice. 

While we appreciate that judges control their courtrooms, we urge you to consider directing such protestors to reserve their displays for public forums.

Very truly yours,

LAS VEGAS POLICE PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION 

STEVE GRAMMAS 

“This has nothing to do with the letter from Metro,” Judge Herndon claimed on Tuesday, “I’m asking the same things of them that I ask of anybody else.”  Ballou stated that it was this letter that prompted her to don the pin:

She said she was moved to wear the pin after hearing about the police union letter, amid a backdrop of high-profile police shootings of black men that have ignited protests and a national dialogue about race in America.

Ballou also invoked recent national anthem protests by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick over racial injustice, including comments he made to the media that “people don’t realize what’s really going on.”

There was no mention of how Ballou’s desire to express her support for Black Lives Matter factored into her duty to represent her client, also of constitutional magnitude.

This isn’t the first time a judge has viewed a lawyer’s Black Lives Matter pin in court as a violation. In July, a judge in Ohio sent an attorney to jail for 5 days after she refused to remove her Black Lives Matter pin.

7 Comments on this post.

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  • losingtrader
    22 September 2016 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    This is sort of shocking because in the two cases where I served on the jury in the Eight Judicial District, I thought the public defenders were far better attorneys–in both experience and capability, than the prosecutors.

    I don’t think I’d want to have her representing a client when she’s clearly representing herself. It’s also not “her case.”

  • Richard G. Kopf
    22 September 2016 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    Tara,

    I presume that Ms. Ballou and her boss would not object to me appearing as a trial judge wearing a clown costume. After all, clowns’ lives matter, clowns are often the object of derision and I feel strongly about how badly clowns are treated.

    As for her idiot boss, I wonder when he will figure out that he and his subordinate lawyers represent clients, not causes. This idea is so fundamental that ignorance of it is astonishing.

    Thanks for this post. It was both illuminating yet depressing.

    RGK

    • dm
      23 September 2016 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Given some of the more asinine sentiments you’ve expressed here and in your previous blog a clown outfit would definitely be appropriate attire for you on the bench. Also, so long as it’s not done during trial, how exactly does a BLM pin worn by an attorney negatively effect the client?

      • Richard G. Kopf
        23 September 2016 at 11:34 am - Reply

        dm,

        You ask “so long as it’s not done during trial, how exactly does a BLM pin worn by an attorney [when appearing before a judge in a criminal case] negatively effect the client?”

        If you honestly don’t know the answer to your question, our discussion would not be productive. So, I pass.

        All the best.

        RGK

        • dm
          23 September 2016 at 12:04 pm - Reply

          Fair enough RGK. Given some of the clowns found on the bench, I’m sure they’re so petty that they would hammer the client in order to punish the attorney.

      • shg
        23 September 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

  • robert edge
    23 September 2016 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Yes, because a BLM pin is exactly the same as wearing a clown costume.