Chicago, IL

Dispute Between Chicago Activist Barred from Courtroom During Smollett Trial and Judge Who Claims He Didn’t Ban Her

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Chicago writer and activist Bella BAHHS says she was told to leave the courtroom though the judge issued a statement saying that wasn’t so

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In the Jussie Smollett case Activist Bella BAHHS was banned from courtroom for speaking with media though judge denies (CC BY 3.0)By Sister Circle Live - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avcCA7pKU2g, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wiki

There is an ongoing dispute regarding the treatment of Bella BAHHS (Black Ancestors Here Healing Society) during her attempt to attend the trial of Jussie Smollett last week. BAHHS said in an interview that she was instructed to leave the courtroom after she spoke with reporters in the lobby.

BAHHS was seated in the front row of the Linn’s courtroom where Cook County Judge James presided during the morning testimony and during the lunch break was asked by Smollett’s media representative if she would agree to speak to reporters in the lobby. She agreed to do so.

During the afternoon session she was told by the media representative that the judge wanted her removed from the courtroom. BAHHS stated she was then escorted out of the courthouse by two armed officers. When she came back Thursday and attempted to enter the courtroom, she said she was once more escorted from the building by two armed police officers.

According to a statement that was released by the court, BAHHS was banned from the courtroom after Judge Lin had delivered a verbal directive to attorneys prohibiting them from speaking with members of the media though it was never put in writing.

Judge Linn originally addressed concerns about the media when Special Prosecutor Dan Webb brought him to the attention of some “press issues”. This was the same day BAHHS was first escorted by police from the building.

Linn said the lawyers had agreed they wouldn’t comment or give statements to the media.

“It’s not a gag order; it’s just an agreement between the lawyers, ” the judge said, adding that he was aware of “statements made in the lobby” made by “a self-described activist.”

Judge Lin then said, “No one is going to infect this experiment.”

BAHHS stated that she did not have any contact with Smollett’s attorneys about what she would say to the media, she only spoke with the media representative. The activist told reporters that while she didn’t know Smollett to be a person who would intentionally falsify a report, she believed, “CPD to be that type of department though.”

A few hours later BAHHS was told she was barred from the courtroom. She stated she believed the reason for this to be her statement to the media.

“I think he [Judge Lin] did not want me in that courtroom because of my political views,” BAHHS said.

Within an hour of the Tribune publishing the interview with the activist. Judge Lin responded in an email. It stated:

“To clarify, the Hon. James Linn did not intend to ban anyone from the courtroom, but asked that the person in question not be in the first row,” the emailed statement read. “The court is open to the public, subject to COVID-19 precautions that limit the number of people in the courtroom to 57.”

BAHHS disputed this account of events and official reports support her version. The Cook County sheriff’s office confirmed that Linn gave a “verbal order" which barred “an individual seated in the gallery of his courtroom from the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building for the remainder of the trial of Jussie Smollett” and that sheriff’s deputies had escorted the individual in question out of the courtroom.

BAHHS said she felt “physically threatened and violated” by her removal both times because the officers were clearly armed.

When asked about the discrepancy between her report and the judges, she said, she didn’t believe it was just miscommunication and emphasized that the judge never approached her directly about the situation. She said it was obvious that trying to blame what occurred on faulty communication "prevented anyone from being held accountable.”

“My right to access a public space as a voting and tax-paying member of the public was violated,” BAHHS said.

The activist said she was especially concerned because if no one addresses the violation it could set a precedent for how everyone who has the right to provide their opinion when asked to do so are treated in the future. She added it could also further restrict and harm the publics ability to know what happens during trials and could also affect people’s ability to understand court proceedings accurately.

“It’s about who witnesses these public trials,” she said.

Jusse Smollett stands accused of lying to police about an alleged hate crime. The former “Empire,” star is charged with six counts of disorderly conduct regarding making false reports to police officers. He has continued to deny planning the attack on himself which occurred in 2019.

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