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Oct 30 2013

Name-Changing Judge Facing Ethics Charges

Remember the judge in Tennessee who unilaterally forced a child’s name to be changed from Messiah to something else, over the objections of both parents (who were in court to argue over the child’s last name)? She’s now facing formal judicial ethics charges over it.

A Tennessee judge who ordered a baby’s name changed from Messiah to Martin, saying the former was reserved for Jesus Christ, has been cited by a court panel for an inappropriate religious bias in violation of the state judicial code of conduct…

“The word ‘messiah’ is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,” the magistrate told Tennessee television station WBIR at the time.

The parents appealed, and in September another judge, Chancellor Telford Forgety Jr., held that Ballew’s ruling was unconstitutional.

The parents, who have since dropped their dispute over the last name, have continued to call the boy Messiah DeShawn McCullough.

A three-member investigative panel of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct concluded this week there was “reasonable cause to believe (Ballew) has committed judicial offenses,” and directed the state board’s disciplinary counsel to file the charges, according to a document obtained from a court clerk.

The judicial code the panel cited centers on a clause that says religion and other personal biases must not play roles when judges are performing their duties.

The judge can now respond to those allegations and a hearing will be held, at which point the panel can impose sanctions on the judge. And they absolutely should do so.

16 comments

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  1. 2
    colnago80

    I wonder what the good judge would think about someone having the surname of Messiah. There is a statistical mechanics textbook written by a Frenchman, Albert Messiah.

  2. 3
    stever

    Is “parental malpractice” an admissible cause of action in Tennessee? If so, that couple should face such a suit from Messiah on his eighteenth birthday, filed concurrently with his petition for legal change of name. But that judge absolutely deserves to get slapped down by the Board of Judicial Conduct.

  3. 4
    Cuttlefish

    He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

  4. 5
    unbound

    @rationalinks – I’m not hopeful myself. Based on insider knowledge from my sister regarding medical board decisions, I’m pretty sure it will be nothing more than a light slap on the wrist unless this blows up a lot bigger in the media prior to the decision.

  5. 6
    Michael Heath

    If the judge’s motivation was to protect the interests of the child vs. the competing rights of the parents’, I’d be empathetic to the judge’s decision. It’ll be interesting seeing what argument the judge uses to defend themself, the one I mentioned or the idiotic argument that went viral. They’re not mutually exclusive.

  6. 7
    bbgunn

    Cuttlefish @ 4:

    He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

    The words of Brian’s mother, Mandy?

  7. 8
    Pierce R. Butler

    … religion and other personal biases must not play roles …

    Does stone bone ignorance count as a personal bias?

  8. 9
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Despite her evident Christian bias, Judge Ballew clearly doesn’t know her Bible. The Book of Isaiah (45:1) refers to the Persian king Cyrus the Great as the Lord’s Mashiach (“anointed” in the KJV), which is the actual Hebrew term rendered in English as Messiah.

  9. 10
    Sastra

    “The word ‘messiah’ is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,” the magistrate told Tennessee television station WBIR at the time.

    I would love to see Judge Reinhold lead a populist grass roots protest over this ruling.

  10. 11
    lofgren

    Is “parental malpractice” an admissible cause of action in Tennessee? If so, that couple should face such a suit from Messiah on his eighteenth birthday, filed concurrently with his petition for legal change of name.

    I keep seeing people saying this but honestly it seems like a perfectly fine name to me. But what do I know. I wanted to know our firstborn Olga and I was informed that is a terrible name and everybody hates it.

  11. 12
    kangxi

    Maybe the parents, Mr & Mrs McCullough, are steeped in 18C English Oratorios by Handel. I dare say most of young Messiah’s brothers & sisters are happy enough with their names (Saul, Esther, Joshua, Susannah et al) but I imagine The Triumph of Time & Truth McCullough and his sister Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne McCullough are having a hard time in the school playground.

  12. 13
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    There is no reasonable interpretation of her action (on these facts) other than that she used the power of government to impose dictates of her religion on the vulnerable minor child.

    She should be fired and disbarred. This isn’t a judge being found to trust evidence from fellow religious travelers more than similarly situated people not in her religion: that might be a case of the availability heuristic at work, a bias into which any of us might lapse that has pernicious incidental effects, but on its face isn’t a moral or ethical question.

    This is the making of a determination of her religion’s requirements, making a finding that someone before her court violated her religion’s requirements, and then drafting an order in contravention of the law for the purpose of enforcing her religion’s requirements.

    She should be fired, though on second thought a long suspension and never being allowed back on the bench is enough. In private practice she could be a zealous advocate for fellow religious travelers and still follow practices that conform to law and ethics.

    I’d like to make her think about it without a law license for a good year, though.

  13. 14
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Look, “messiah” means covered/smeared with grease. In classical and in ancient times this was done daily. Kings, priests, petitioners, lots and lots of folks were, as part and parcel of their job/position were smeared with grease.

    So she’s wrong on quite a number of levels.

    But it also causes me to say this:

    I don’t care how good he is with a carburetor, I’m never going to pray to Jesus the Greasy.
    … But I might beseech him a little on the labor charges.

  14. 15
    caseloweraz

    In addition to Albert Messiah and his book on statistical mechanics, there’s that book by Madonna about heavenly bodies.

    (What? I mean Richard Madonna’s textbook on orbital mechanics.)

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/orbital-mechanics-richard-g-madonna/1101341032?ean=9780894640100

  15. 16
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Fucking good! I was appalled when I read about that. How can they not impose sanctions? She flat out admitted on television that she changed the child’s name, against the parent’s wishes, out of sreligiously-motivated outrage at the idea of a person being named Messiah.

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