Separation of church and state?

Jaleesa Martin is the mother of a seven-month-old bouncing baby boy named Messiah. She and the baby’s father had such trouble agreeing on the baby’s last name(s) that they ended up taking the disagreement to court to let a judge settle it. And you know what? That’s not the most amazing part!

According to the CBC, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, serving the 4th Judicial District of Tennessee, came back with a wholly unexpected decision. She decreed that Messiah’s name will be Martin DeShawn McCullough. See what she did? She changed the child’s first name. Why? The judge herself said,

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.

I agree that Jesus Christ is appropriate, but as an expletive and nothing else.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys in 2012 in the United States, with 762 babies being named Messiah that year. Is Ballew going to go on a crusade to force those parents to change their babies’ names as well? Far more likely is her decision being overturned on appeal. The New Your Times reports that the American Civil Liberties Union has offered to join Martin in the appeal. We’ll find out what happens on September 17, when the appeal is heard.

Frankly, this judge needs to be reminded that her decisions have limits. Being slapped down would help her to remember the lesson.

Update (June 11, 2014)

Ms. Ballew hasn’t experienced the best year.

Jaleesa Martin’s appeal resulted in another judge, Chancellor Telford Forgety Jr., ruling that Ballew’s ruling was unconstitutional. According to The Huffington Post,

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 hearing was scheduled for March 3, 2014.

While waiting for that hearing, more bad news arrived. The New York Daily News reported on February 5,

O. Duane Slone, presiding judge of the state’s fourth judicial district, terminated Ballew’s appointment, effective last Friday, according to court documents.

Slone did not give a reason in his order, but Ballew had previously been cited by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct for an inappropriate religious bias.

In March, WBIR.com reported the results of her hearing:

The judge at the center of a high-profile infant name change case was issued a public censure Monday afternoon.

Former magistrate Lu Ann Ballew went before Judge Chris Craft, the chair of the state board of judicial conduct and a six-person panel. The group had to decide on five counts whether Ballew was compliance with laws concerning impartiality and bias — all counts she was found guilty.

and

A public censure means a judge will put on record that the conduct of the judge violates conduct. Ballew may be required to “follow a specified course of corrective action.” According to the courts, a censure is a stronger penalty than a “public reprimand.”

The censure does not affect Ballew’s law license, and she could reapply for her prior position as magistrate.

Ballew did not comment following Monday’s decision.

20130817_luannSo the story was over, right? Nope! It turns out that after this very visible error in judgement on her part, Ballew decided the time was right to run for the position of General Sessions Judge of Jefferson County, Tennessee.

Ballew did not win the election.


Campaign poster taken from Ballew’s Facebook campaign page.

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