LAS VEGAS (AP) — A defense attorney touched off a protest about race and free expression in a Las Vegas courtroom when she refused to remove a “Black Lives Matter” button from her blouse despite a judge’s request not to demonstrate what he called “political speech.”

Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon asked Erika Ballou, a deputy public defender who is black, to remove the button or leave the courtroom and turn the case she was handling over to another lawyer.

“I’m asking the same thing of defense attorneys that I ask of anybody else,” the judge said. “Please leave any kind of political or opinion protest statements outside the courtroom.”

Ballou, with Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn standing at her side and about a dozen defense attorneys in the audience Tuesday to show their support, insisted that she had a First Amendment right to demonstrate her opinion. She also refused to remove herself from her client’s case, which the judge postponed to Thursday.

Several supporters wore a similar lapel button: Black, about the size of a silver dollar, with white letters. Attorney Jonathan MacArthur said he’ll wear it again to Herndon’s courtroom on Thursday.

“This is an issue about criminal justice,” Ballou told the judge.

She noted that some deputy district attorneys wear small office badge-type lapel pins, and that uniformed court officers are allowed to wear symbolic black bands on their badges to mourn police officers killed on duty.


“This is not political speech. It is not supporting a particular candidate,” she said of her pin. “I believe a courtroom is the proper place.”

Ballou, a public defender for 11 years, said outside court that she took her stand after the head of the Las Vegas police union sent a letter last week to the chief state district court judge, David Barker, complaining that what the union executive termed “‘Black Lives Matter’ propaganda” had no place in courtrooms.

“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,” Las Vegas Police Protective Association director Steve Grammas wrote. “While we embrace the First Amendment, we do not believe that such statements should be made in the halls of justice.”

Grammas said in a brief email that he raised the issue at the request of a union member, who was “satisfied to have the issue addressed.” Grammas didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions.

Barker was in court hearings and unavailable to immediately respond to messages.

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


Herndon, who earlier asked court spectators to cover T-shirts they’d worn to support victims in another case, told Ballou he tries to keep his courtroom free of outside influences.

The pin, the judge said, “is making a political statement, that, ‘I wear this in protest of how the court is treating minority defendants.'”

“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, a self-described “middle-aged, middle-income” woman, said she feared for her life when she was surrounded by four Nevada Highway Patrol officers during a traffic stop for a driving infraction last July 4.

“People are getting killed in the streets every day. People who look like me,” she said. “Black Lives Matter is not a protest against police. It is a protest against police brutality.”

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.”

In Las Vegas, race in criminal justice has been a controversial issue in recent years.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department drew scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services and began in 2013 to change a range of policies after a review of officer-involved shootings over several years.

The seven-month COPS review looked at 87 cases of police use of deadly force from 2007 to 2012. Of those, 10 involved unarmed people, including seven who were African-American.

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(Photo Source: AP)

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7 thoughts on “Defense Attorney Sparks ‘Black Lives’ Protest In Vegas Court

  1. If you don’t involve yourself in the process THE ENTIRE PROCESS then you get out while the rest of us try and endure setbacks until we see the changes we’re working toward. Sit back criticize judge we aren’t going anywhere and we aren’t going to stop until all violence black on black white on black and police brutality is at an all time low. Don’t be so naive as to think that your ignorance makes you safe. Those young folks were in their city but NOT their neighborhood, they aren’t afraid, you should be.

  2. African American Woman on said:

    His beautiful…that’s the meaning for you. There are people, black, white or whatever who don’t agree with your meaning. A judge has the right and obligation to maintain an environment of impartiality when it comes to law enforcement. Everyone has beliefs, positions, political affiliations they associate with, however, there are times and places to display them. As a taxpayer funded attorney, she should know better. If you don’t understand that simple concept, maybe you should go back and hit some books. By the way, I don’t support a group who called themselves Black Lives Matter when we have men, women and sadly black children who are getting gunned down daily at rates akin to a war zone and these same folks who claim all black lives matter don’t say a peep! I’m concerned about the innocents who are taken out by people who look just like them. Out of all the cop related shootings that have occurred this year, less than 25 percent involved a black victim…oh, don’t like those numbers, huh? Start with black men killing each other because if you dont, there won’t be any left for the police to kill.

  3. African American Woman on said:

    I totally agree with the judge. I believe everyone has a right to free speech and expression but NOT when it infringes on the rights of others. Judges, attorneys and others in the legal process are supposed to be impartial. Someone wearing a black lives matter pin in a court of due process is blantantly saying I am not impartial which makes her unfit.

    • His Beautiful on said:

      I don’t understand how wearing a pin that stands against social injustices and police brutality infringes on the rights of others or how supporting this makes her unfit? POLICE BRUTALITY infringes on the rights of others. What you are saying makes zero sense and maybe as an African American you should take some time to look up what BLM stands for. If you agree with this nonsense, then you are part of the problem.

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