“Black Lives Matter” button lawsuit settled


By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

A settlement has been reached in the federal lawsuit by Atty. Andrea Burton, which claimed that Judge Robert Milich of municipal court violated her free speech and due-process and equal-protection rights by finding her in contempt of court when she wore a Black Lives Matter button in his court July 22.

Court documents released Friday show the settlement of the lawsuit against Judge Milich, Judge Elizabeth Kobly of municipal court, and the city was reached after more than three hours of mediation Thursday in federal court here.

Accompanying the settlement announcement was a statement from Burton saying she viewed wearing the button in the same context as wearing a pink ribbon to promote breast-cancer awareness, or police wearing black tape over their badges after an officer is slain, but she now understands “that a courtroom is a nonpublic forum over which Judge Milich had the authority to dictate decorum.”

A summary of the settlement supplied by Burton’s lawyer, Edward L. Gilbert of Akron, says Judge Milich has agreed to dismiss the contempt citation, and Burton has agreed to dismiss her appeal of the citation.

That summary says Judge Milich and the municipal court agreed not to retaliate against Burton and that Judges Milich and Kobly must fully consider her request for future appointments to court-appointed cases.

Other than Burton’s written statement, no details concerning the settlement were posted Friday on the federal court website.

In her federal lawsuit, Burton alleged she was denied all new municipal court appointments between July 22 and Aug. 16 and was being “economically freezed out of making a living without due process.”

In a Friday interview, Judge Milich said Burton was not being frozen out of court-appointed cases.

“Nobody’s guaranteed anything. Lawyers are appointed as needed,” he said, adding that there are 50 lawyers on his list for court appointments.

“The bottom line is: It’s the responsibility of the judge to maintain decorum in the courtroom and to ensure that everybody’s rights are protected in that forum,” Judge Milich said.

“We’re not there to give people a public forum on issues,” he said. “We’re there to pursue justice and make sure everybody’s rights are protected and that we are able to accomplish justice on matters that come before the court.”

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi in Akron, who will monitor the settlement, ordered that a final settlement entry, approved by lawyers for all parties, is to be filed with the court on or before Oct. 3.

Thursday’s mediation that led to the settlement came on the day a scheduled hearing on Burton’s request for a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of Judge Milich’s contempt order was canceled.

Judge Milich had stayed a five-day jail term that accompanied the contempt citation on the condition that Burton wouldn’t wear the Black Lives Matter button, “or any other political badge or pin,” in municipal court or its hallways.

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