A Las Vegas defense attorney has agreed to remove a “Black Lives Matter” pin from her blouse after a Nevada state court judge held firm and said he wouldn’t allow displays of political viewpoints during proceedings in his courtroom.

Public Defender Erika Ballou: “Your honor, I don’t think we’re going to need to take a break.” I’m taking off the button, I will not wear it in this courtroom in the future.”
Judge: “Thank you.” 

Herndon says he’s all about respect, but wearing the Black Lives Matter button in his courtroom demonstrated what he called political speech.

“You advocate for reform when you believe it’s needed; you advocate on behalf of social injustice, just as you’re doing here, but it has to be done when and where it’s appropriate,” said Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon.  “The right to do that isn’t absolute.” 

Deputy Public Defender Erika Ballou and her boss, Phil Kohn, acknowledged Thursday that case law, including federal appeals court rulings, gives judges broad discretion in requiring and enforcing courtroom decorum.

Ballou was in court to represent a white client at a sentencing hearing in a domestic violence case before Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon.

Herndon says he asks everyone to leave political and opinion protests at the courtroom door.

Ballou, who is black, refused Tuesday when Herndon asked her to remove the pin or to remain outside the courtroom. She cast it as a stand for free speech, due process and civil rights. 

That made her a new voice of protest in a national debate over police brutality and race relations.  Ballou’s stance sent shock waves through the Clark County Public Defender’s office.

Of 110 colleagues, about 30 stood in support in court, refusing to take off their pins, even after Ballou removed hers.

“What’s happening in that courtroom is not a court that’s trying to keep things fair, said David Westbrook Chief Deputy public defender.  “It’s a court that’s using a robe and a bench to make his own political point .”

Two of Ballou’s other colleagues said they’re not anti anything, they’re just pro-change in the justice system.

“African Americans are disproportionately prosecuted, said Sarah Hawkins Deputy Public Defender.  “They’re sentenced more harshly; I believe that they are treated differently and I believe that is a direct result of institutional racism that has poisoned the criminal justice system.”

Clark County Court released a statement:

“Ultimately, whether or not expressive conduct in the courtroom setting is constitutionally protected, or an infringement on the court’s duty to impartially preside is a matter that each judge must decide for himself or herself after carefully considering the facts and circumstances surrounding the expressive conduct.”