January 22, 2008
Chicago Judge Refuses to Waive Transgender Woman's Filing Fee in Name Change Petition
A transgender woman is currently asking the Illinois Supreme Court to order Will County Chief Judge to permit her to file a name change petition without filing costs. The woman, who is indigent, wishes to change her name to "reflect [her] identity." Her appeal to the Supreme Court asserts that the judge "told her the name change was 'something that she wanted, not something that she needed,'" and therefore denied her request. See Chicago Tribune Article.
However, according to Illinois law, a judge cannot deny an indigent's petition for a waiver of filing costs without providing a specific reason, in a written order, for the denial. 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-105(d).
The appeal filed in the Illinois Supreme Court asks the high court to order the judge to follow the Illinois statute cited above.
If the allegations are true, the judge violated the Illinois statute by failing to file the required written order specifying why he denied the request. However, it also demonstrates the judge's misunderstanding of transgender individuals. For most individuals, a name change is not a necessity. We might change our name just for fun (I know a guy who changed his legal first name to "Sloth", for instance). But, for a transgender individual, a name like Matthew could prevent her from living as a woman. This is not merely "something . . . she want[s]", but, rather, it is truly necessary for her to live as a woman. It is a form of liberty, if you will. The ability to decide who she is and live accordingly.
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It's telling that the Judge felt unable to put his reasons in writing.
The legislation that allows indigency to be pleaded is there for a reason: and if this case isn't a compelling enough argument for necessity of name change, it would be difficult to find *any* situation that qualified.
A writ of mandamus to compel the Judge to comply with the law he has sworn to uphold would put him in a difficult situation - on the face of it, it's likely he would have to lie though his teeth, and come up with a plausible excuse other than his real reason - that "God hates Trannies", something his powers of creativity may not be up to. Or to brazenly stand by his views, and thereby have what he is ashamed to admit to in public exposed for all to see. Pehaps I'm doing him an injustice, but at the least, he has failed to act in accordance with principles of natural justice, and has demonstrated incompetence in exercising his authority.
I've just (successfully) fought a 20-month battle in my own jurisdiction to compel government authorities to act in accordance with the law, and issue me a passport. But I was lucky to have a president of the appeals tribunal who was a former Family Court Judge, so knew what the issues and the law actually were, and agreed to enforce the latter without it going any higher.
This kind of thing is endemic throughout jurisdictions in the western world.
Posted by: Zoe Brain | Jan 23, 2008 7:27:40 AM
Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to hear you were able to obtain a passport. But, it is sad to hear that it took 20 months to do so.
Posted by: Sara Benson | Jan 28, 2008 7:57:51 AM