Will County Court Officials Defy Rules in Transgender Woman's Case: Lambda Legal Asks State High Court to Enforce Them
(Springfield, IL, January 17, 2008) — In papers to be filed today at the Illinois Supreme Court, Lambda Legal asked the state high court to compel the Chief Judge and the Circuit Court Clerk of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit in Will County, to follow proper court procedure so Daunn Turner, a low-income, disabled transgender woman, can continue the process to legally change her name.
Under Illinois law, all low-income individuals who cannot afford court fees are entitled to a waiver of fees associated with legal proceedings. Ms. Turner's request for a waiver was rejected, however, because Will County court officials determined that changing her legal name was unnecessary and unimportant.
"All poor people — including poor transgender people — are entitled to equal access to the courts," said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. "By refusing to give appropriate consideration to Ms. Turner's financial circumstances, the Will County court has shut her out of the judicial process."
Daunn Turner is a 52-year-old transgender woman. She is disabled and receives benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program. Ms. Turner wants to legally change her name to Daunn so that her name will better reflect her female identity and so that she can avoid the harassment and discrimination that often results when people learn that her current legal name — a stereotypically "male" name — is at odds with how she appears.
On July 6, 2007, Turner submitted a petition to the Will County Court to begin the process of changing her legal name. Included with her petition was a request for a waiver of the court fees associated with the petition based on Ms. Turner's status as a low-income, disabled individual. The Circuit Clerk declined to file her papers and did not open an official court record. Instead, Ms. Turner was directed to submit her paperwork to the offices of the Chief Judge. Weeks later, the Chief Judge rejected Ms. Turner's petition in a telephone call telling her that he would not spend county money on her request. He said that a name change was "not that important" and "something she wanted" rather than "something she needed." When asked to consider Turner's disability and financial situation, the Chief Judge refused, telling her that she should ask for money from her friends on her upcoming birthday to help fund her name change.
When Ms.Turner asked him about her right to appeal his decision, he informed her that she had no such right and that he was the ultimate decision maker.
The Chief Judge did not issue a written order explaining his decision as required by state law. Without either an official case file or a written order, Turner was left in legal limbo, with no ability either to proceed with her name change or to appeal the Chief Judge's decision.
Lambda Legal's complaint argues that the Circuit Court Clerk and the Chief Judge failed to follow proper procedure by refusing to allow Ms. Turner to proceed with her name change while her request for a fee waiver was pending and by refusing to issue a written order explaining the reasons for denying the fee waiver.
The case is Turner v. The Honorable Stephen White, Chief Judge, Twelfth Judicial Circuit and Pamela J. McGuire, Circuit Court Clerk, Twelfth Judicial Circuit.
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