Editorial: Magistrate’s action blocking child’s given name a major judicial overreach

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 11:11 PM

Talk about your activist judges. Got to hand it to Lu Ann Ballew. The child support magistrate is a person of faith, and that’s good, but she expects everyone to feel the same way as she does. That is not her role.

She has gained the state some unfavorable attention and embarrassment in recent days after she changed a 7-month-old boy’s name to Martin from Messiah. She said the religious name Messiah was earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ.” So she changed it on her own. If left to her, the baby’s legal name would henceforth be Martin, not what his parents wanted to call him and have every right to call him.

Of course this ruling won’t stand. Tennessee judges are conservative, but for the most part they are not reactionaries or legal illiterates. They follow the law, something Ballew failed to do in a dramatic way by her unilateral name change.

The boy’s parents were in court because they could not agree on the child’s last name — not first name —but when the judge heard the boy’s first name, she ordered it changed, too. “It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” Ballew said in an interview. She said it was the first time she ordered a first-name change.

Ballew may also have violated her judicial canon of ethics by granting a press interview to comment on an active case. It seems likely the state’s board that investigates claims of misconduct will be getting more than one inquiry about it.

Ballew is appointed by the four circuit judges and magistrate in the 4th District, which includes Sevier County. She serves at their pleasure. Or in this case, displeasure. The boy’s mother will appeal the case, and on appeal is going to win a reversal of this shameful judicial overreach.

Let’s be clear. Naming your child Messiah may be offensive to some, but it is not a legal issue. Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration’s annual list of popular baby names. And if you run down a list of names given celebrity babies, you will wince more than once. Consider: Denim and Diesel (Toni Braxton), Moroccan (Mariah Carey), Suri (Tom Cruise), Fifi Trixibelle (Bob Geldof), Ever Gabo (Milla Jovovich), Spec Wildhorse (John Mellencamp) and Ahmet Emuukha Rodan (Franjk Zappa), Ballew should be on the bench in Hollywood to keep those kids from lifelong suffering.

Those celebrity kids may face embarrassment, but their parents did nothing illegal. Neither did Messiah’s parents. They were unfortunate to go before a judge who shoved aside the law she is sworn to uphold. This will get fixed eventually, but Ballew probably will not be. At the appropriate time she should resign or be removed from this position.