A municipal court judge in Ohio ordered his bailiff to take a black attorney into custody and sentenced her to five days in jail because she refused to remove a Black Lives Matter pin in the judge’s courtroom.
The incident occurred on Friday in the Youngstown, Ohio courtroom of Judge Robert Milich, reports local CBS affiliate WKBN-TV.
Judge Milich cited the attorney, Andrea Burton, for contempt of court over the button brouhaha.
Milich then sentenced Burton to five days in jail.
Burton was then released from custody pending her appeal to a higher court — and provided she stops wearing Black Lives Matter pins in Milich’s courtroom. If the appeals court sides with Milich, Burton will have to serve the five-day sentence.
Milich said he did not have Burton arrested in his courtroom because of his personal views.
“A judge doesn’t support either side,” the municipal court judge told WKBN. “A judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law.”
“There’s a difference between a flag, a pin from your church or the Eagles and having a pin that’s on a political issue,” Milich also told the CBS affiliate.
Youngstown’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has criticized the judge’s actions, and has urged the national legal office of the NAACP to intervene on Burton’s behalf.
“We are monitoring this case very closely as it may violate Attorney Burton’s civil rights,” NAACP Youngstown branch president George Freeman, Jr. said in a statement obtained by WKBN.
The NAACP letter compared the Black Lives Matter pin to pins supporting veterans’ organizations, or a Greek festival, or an Italian festival or the YWCA.
“We will do all that the NAACP Youngstown can do to ensure that Attorney Burton’s constitutional rights are not being violated,” Freeman also said.
A local attorney, Kim F. Akins, also defended Burton.
“No one wearing an American flag button, no one wearing a crucifix or a Star of David would be removed, so why this particular statement bothered him so much is bothersome,” Akins told WKBN.
Burton obviously supports her choice to wear the Black Lives Matter pin into Milich’s courtroom.
“It’s an act of civil disobedience. I understand that,” she said, according to the New York Daily News. “I’m not anti-police. I work with law enforcement and I hold them in the highest regard, and, just to say for the record, I do believe all lives matter. But at this point they don’t all matter equally, and that’s the problem in the justice system.”
Mike Brickner, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said judges have considerable freedom to make reasonable decisions about how people can dress in their courtrooms.
“There have been cases in the past when people have been given contempt of court for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to remove an article of clothing that may have a message on it,” Brickner told WKBN. “Many times this has been done to retain the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
Burton was apparently representing a client in Milich’s courtroom when the Friday fracas went down over the Black Lives Matter pin.
Burton is a graduate of the University of Akron School of Law. She was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 2012. Her specialty areas appear to be juvenile law and criminal law. She has no prior history of attorney discipline or sanctions.
Milich is a 1978 graduate of the University of Akron School of Law. He has been a Youngstown municipal judge since 1998.
Burton is black.
Milich is white.