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Judge faces censure over social media posts, courtroom comments

Updated June 13, 2024 - 6:13 pm

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline has issued a public censure against a Clark County judge over her social media posts and statements during a sentencing hearing.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, District Judge Erika Ballou consented to the public censure, waiving her right to contest allegations over two social media posts from 2021 and 2022, and agreeing to complete an online course with the Nevada Judicial College.

Ballou did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Clark County district attorney’s office on Tuesday filed a renewed motion to recuse Ballou from all hearings involving its prosecutors, after District Judge Susan Johnson rejected the office’s initial petition on the matter.

This week’s filing from the discipline commission said that Ballou admits to violating the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct in the “inappropriate” statements posted to social media.

One post came during the Life is Beautiful music festival in September 2021, when Ballou posted a selfie with the caption: “Life is STILL beautiful, despite the fact that Billie Eilish doesn’t START for thirty minutes and I have a 8:30 calendar tomorrow.” The post also included a hashtag containing an expletive and suggesting that out-of-custody hearings should be vacated.

The other post under question was a photo of Ballou in a hot tub with two public defenders, with a caption stating that one of the public defenders “is surrounded by great (breasts).”

Judge notes mitigating factors

The public censure noted mitigating factors from Ballou, including that she did not intend either post to be publicly disseminated and that she did not vacate or continue any hearings after the post she made during the music festival.

Because Ballou agreed to the censure, the commission agreed not to pursue a separate action against Ballou for making a Facebook post including lyrics to a Cardi B song in response to the complaint about her previous posts.

Ballou also admitted to violating the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct that requires judges to avoid “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” and to perform their duties impartially.

During a sentencing hearing in July 2022, Ballou told a defendant: “You’re a Black man in America, you know you don’t want to be around where cops are,” and “I know I don’t, and I’m a middle-aged, middle-class Black woman. I don’t want to be around where cops are because I don’t know if I’m going to walk away alive or not.”

Mitigating factors from Ballou noted in the public censure included that in her opinion, she is “known to praise the police,” and that neither of the statements she made about the police were untrue.

The commission noted that some of the mitigating factors included by Ballou “are not mitigating; are opinion; or are otherwise not verifiable.”

District attorney alleges bias

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said Thursday that the public censure supports his position that Ballou should be recused from overseeing criminal cases involving his office.

A judge denied the district attorney’s petition to recuse Ballou on June 4, finding that only the chief judge has the authority to recuse Ballou and that the petition should have been made in a specific criminal case. Wolfson has since filed a new petition in one of Ballou’s criminal cases, which will be heard by Chief Judge Jerry Wiese on June 27, court records show.

Wolfson said he has not pursued the complete recusal of a judge from overseeing cases involving his office during the entirety of his tenure as district attorney.

The petition he filed to recuse Ballou alleged that she is biased against prosecutors and failed to follow orders from the Nevada Supreme Court when she had a prisoner released from custody before the completion of her sentence, and then failed to remand the prisoner when the Supreme Court overturned her decision.

Wolfson said that because he has submitted a complaint about Ballou with the Commission on Judicial Discipline, there could be the appearance of bias in future hearings involving the district attorney’s office.

“The appearance doesn’t look good,” Wolfson said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

Ballou Court Decision by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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