Tennessee Judge Who Renamed Child Now Facing Judicial Misconduct Charges

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (aka Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger

Seal of TN JudiciaryLast August, this blog had the story of Cocke County, Tennessee child support Magistrate Judge Lu Ann Ballew who arbitrarily ordered parents to change the first name of their seven month old child.  Jaleesa Martin and Jawaan McCullough had decided on their child’s first name, but were not able to agree on whether his surname should be that of his mother or his father.  It was Judge Ballew who ordered the parents of seven month old Messiah McCullough Martin they had to change the child’s first name and change his birth certificate. Judge Ballew opined, “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.”

In a rambling interview with local television, Judge Ballew tried to explain her reasoning. The reporter asked her what if the child had been named Jesus, a popular name in the Spanish speaking community. The judge stammered, finally declaring that to be irrelevant. The reporter did not press the issue and ask about the use of Mohammed/Muhammed by many Islamic families. Her answer to that would have been…..interesting. Here is the interview of Magistrate Judge Lu Ann Ballew with a reporter from a local TV station. This is almost painful to watch.

Jaleesa Martin and Messiah’s father, Jawaan McCullough, appealed Judge Ballew’s order to Cocke County Chancery Court. Chancellor Telford B. Forgety heard the case, and only needed 30 minutes to find Ballew in fatal reversible error and that her ruling was unconstitutional.  Judge Ballew had ordered the name change the first week of August. The appeal to Chancellor Forgety went through with warp speed, and within six weeks, on September 18, her opinion had been reversed and rendered. Chancellor Forgety did what the parents had asked Judge Ballew to do in the first place, and that was to help them decide on the surname. The child’s name will be Messiah McCullough, which is the father’s surname.  Judge Ballew was never asked about the first name, but took it upon herself, sua sponte, to order the parents to change it and have the birth certificate changed because their choice of a baby name offended her religious sensibilities.

Three days ago, Judge Lu Ann Ballew was charged with judicial misconduct. The charges were filed Wednesday by a three-member investigative panel associated with Tennessee’s Board of Judicial Conduct. The formal charges against Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew say she failed to promote confidence in the judiciary or uphold the law without bias or partiality.

The full filing is at this link. PDF warning, it may load slow.

Judge Ballew not only displays an astounding ignorance of the First Amendment, but of the historical and etymological meaning of the word “Messiah” itself. The word “messiah” is the English translation of the Hebrew term masiah [jyiv’m], which is derived from the verb masah, meaning to smear or anoint. When objects such as wafers and shields were smeared with grease or oil they were said to be anointed; hence the commonly used term was “anoint” when grease or oil was applied to objects or persons by Israelites and non-Israelites alike. Kings and other notables were anointed, for example. Even in modern day baptisms, it is common practice for the priest or minister to anoint the child or baptized person with oil. Therefore her assertion there was only one “messiah” was dead wrong.

To add another thumb in the eye of Judge Ballew, the Social Security Administration says that in 2011, the name Messiah was the 633rd most popular name for boys. In 2012, it was 387th most popular for baby boys. That 246 position jump made Messiah the fourth fastest growing baby name for boys in the U.S.

Judge Ballew, now the defendant in the ethics case, has thirty days to respond, or a default judgment will be entered against her by the ethics panel.

We now will wait and see how this plays out. I used to write a series of stories I called, “Judges Running Amok.” I may have to revive that. There is so much material to work with and so little time.

72 thoughts on “Tennessee Judge Who Renamed Child Now Facing Judicial Misconduct Charges

  1. I’m very glad to see this particular injustice is being tackled at its root. Hopefully you will keep us informed as I would very much like to read her response to the ethics charges.

  2. WOW.

    As one who was raised a Christian and learned that he quite probably had yiddish roots through his grandmother who died when my mom was born; I find this issue – on either side of the religious spectrum (‘traditionalism’) – to be absolutely absurd.

    Like the press report states, others chose names akin to their beliefs; and vast numbers would be in a state of flux as per their chosen naming as “Jesus” (most often pronounced “hey Zeus”).

    That being said, I’m not sure the judge should be charged with Judicial misconduct – unless there’s a history of abuse of powers. (Unless it was going on TV that they are out to “charge” Her Honor for).

  3. As fer the judges running amok – I’ve petitioned you to write about Her Honor Walrath stating she doesn’t want to hear about fraud on the court; as she concluded that she needed to get back to Tweeter.

    Hope all is well Otteray.


    Judge’s responses are usually held in confidence.

  4. I will try to stay abreast of developments in this case.

    Laser, the judicial misconduct is for bringing disrepute to the judiciary. The facts of this case hit the international press when she made her ruling a couple of months ago. When a lower court judge in a rural county makes a ruling so awful it goes viral around the globe within a day, that does reflect badly on the judiciary. Of course she is not the only one. There is a lot of material to work with for future stories.

  5. Parents have done much worse than Messiah in naming a child. What about news commentator, Chrystal Ball, or attorney Ronald McDonald?

  6. This is almost painful to watch.” – OS

    True dat.

    Some of the pain I felt while watching it was the absolute clueless of the Judge as to the reality of what she was living.

  7. Or Jack Mehoff, he comments here sometimes. I actually love black first names although they have spun out of control. When I was a juvenile probation officer I had a kid named, Fleetwood, on my caseload. At least he didn’t have to always spell it like kids w/ ‘hood names today.

  8. nick spinelli 1, October 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    “Forget it Jake..it’s Tennesse.”
    nick spinelli 1, October 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    It’s Tennessee, there must be some incest stories or hillbilly feuds.
    It is more likely that bigotry has more to do with it than “Tennessee”.

    A Tennessee court immediately reversed the decision and the judge is defending herself against charges.

  9. I’ve always wanted to name a child Authorized Personnel so that they could enter all doors marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” I bet this judge would force a name change to Unauthorized Personnel. I hope her title gets changed to “former judge.”

  10. Don, There was a good NFL football player named Lawyer Milloy. I often make reservations under the name Dr. Spinelli. You get better treatment. Made me consider naming one of our kids, Doctor. But, I never even proposed it to my wife. No way!

  11. The name Jesus (Hey-sues) is not relevant to this case, said the Judge, but HER religion is?

    Separate HER religion from HER Governmental job, please!

  12. Nothing new. I’ve dealt with more than one judge that was self-serving, narcissistic scum. Only one made the correct decision. Their sti+ stinks whether they like to admit it or not.

  13. Okay Otteray…..

    To the rest of ya’s all – Hee Haw Haa (Haas)

    I’m starting a new series of Jokes and Joking as of today!
    (my B’day present to me for Thursday).

    “IF you are a Judge – then you must be a corrupt’nik”

    If you sit behind a bench, and wear a dark robe;
    within nothing on underneath – Do NOT Disrobe in open court!

    If you worked for Monsanto, have a wife who does deals for you on the side, have sex in NYC clubs with other legal eagles and seek to preside on the U.S Supreme Court – You might be a corrupt’nik

    If you own billions of dollars in casinos, openly bribe foreign officials, fund Newt & RMoney both, and freely admit you’re seeking a “friendly” US Attorney General for your $100 million Citizens United type venture; because you believed your MitTwit could beat the Non-Caucasian with the funny name.

    You are a DUMB corrupt’nik!

  14. It’s not just Tennessee. I’m so worn out with the fundies inflicting their beliefs on the rest of us. Last year, my severely autistic 12 year old was taught The Lord’s Prayer at school. This week, my autistic four year old came home with a New Testament in his backpack. The Gideons have been invited into our school district to distribute Bibles to elementary students. I’m over it. I’m in a 95% Republican Kentucky county and these people make me insane. We’re literally moving to get away from the oppressive religiosity.

  15. Juliet, It’s had to believe that would happen in a public school. Call Freedom From Religion and Anne Laurie Gaylor will get their minds right. Sounds like she might need some muscle w/ her. Seriously, that’s what she does. Some of her crusades are Carey Nation like and over the top, but this is what that organization lives for and does best. They’re in Madison, Wi. I see around town sometimes.

  16. Thanks, Gene. After it doesn’t post I always go back. When you try to post it again wordpress says it’s identical. So, I’ll add something and that does the trick most the time..maybe 80%. Not this time. I truly appreciate your help.

  17. Snowden managed to get progressives, libertarians and tea partiers to the same rally today in DC. Europe sure doesn’t love Obama anymore!

  18. Hey guy, it’s not until Halloween – okay (just giving myself the present of starting a proper training of something near and dear to me).

    But thanks for all the great B’day wishes…

    This Blog is So cool

  19. Laser,
    It is youngest kidlings b’day too. Every birthday is special for her. Survivor of childhood cancer that is supposed to be unsurvivable. I happen to know her secret. She was too damn stubborn to die. Every time somebody has told her she can’t do something, she takes it as a challenge and does it.

    Youngest grandson will have his first b’day on the 30th. Looks like birthday month around here. Blame it on chilly February nights.

  20. :op

    Fantastic Otteray.

    G-d Bless guy, GREAT for Her!
    Hope she enjoys many, many more.

    Brooklyn Blizzard is coming back this year;
    so twins and triplets may abound.

  21. The title “judge” has only been deserved by one person, and that person
    is Jesus Christ.

    Why do so many people foolishly believe that people in positions of authority are any more honorable than the average fool walking down the street?

  22. Just because a judge makes a decision you don’t agree with or is against the great weight of the law or fact does not automatically mean they are corrupt…..

    When they do it for gain, or because they don’t like the attorney or defendant then you have corruption directly and indirectly…..

    I believe that this case is a misinformed self righteous Christian…. There are many once the robe goes on they change into super judge….of sorts….. They are the law….

  23. Nick: It’s not that easy. I did complain to the Superintedent, who has stated for the local paper that he will allow the Gideons in, regardless of the law. Word spread through the county like wildfire. My mother and sister have been bombarded with emails and messages about the subject, and they are in near-hysterics. (No one has the stones to confront me about it.) The ACLU wants to take the case, but it’s not worth burning bridges with my entire hometown and surrounding county. My kids are non-verbal, which would make them a convenient target for anyone with a grudge. No, we’ll just move to a place that’s a little less “Christian.”

  24. It’s a public school, all right, and our district isn’t the only one. Here’s a story that ran in our local paper. It’s a paid link, so I had to cut and paste.


    ACLU threatens superintendents with lawsuit

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

    The American Civil Liberties Union is once again rattling its saber with school superintendents, threatening litigation if schools continue to allow members of Gideons International to offer New Testaments to elementary school students.

    But despite the threat, Boyd Harris, Shawn Pierce, and Judy Phillips, principals at Liberty Elementary, Jones Park Elementary, and Walnut Hill Elementary, respectively, as well as Casey County School Superintendent Marion Sowders, all say the threat will not keep local Gideon representatives from offering the New Testaments to students in their schools.

    “We provide the Gideons a place and they place the Bibles on a table and students can take one if they want to. No one forces them to take one,” said Phillips.

    Phillips, who’s unashamedly Christian as are her colleagues, said that years ago in a school where she taught, a student took a New Testament and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and was saved.

    “He’d never had a Bible before or went to church and he got saved,” Phillips said, adding that no other outside organization has ever asked permission to distribute materials.

    Sowders said that in the absence of a district-wide written policy, he will continue to let the principals decide who can offer materials to students during the day.

    “The Kentucky School Board Association, the suggestion they’re giving to school districts is if you’re going to allow them to come into your school, to let them lay the Bibles on a table and then if students want to get them, they’re there. They’re not necessarily handing them out to every single individual. You’re not necessarily pushing your beliefs on everyone,” Sowders said.

    And it’s exactly that stance that has the ACLU threatening to sue.

    In an Aug. 19 letter to Kentucky’s 173 public school superintendents, ACLU staff attorney William E. Sharp said the organization felt it necessary to follow up on information supplied to the ACLU by 169 districts earlier in the year.

    “A review of the districts’ responses confirmed several documented instances of public school officials allowing one particular religious organization — the Gideons International — into elementary schools during the school day solely for the purpose of actively distributing copies of New Testament Bibles directly to students,” Sharp stated. “Because our previous, informal efforts have been insufficient to correct these widespread problems, we are providing you with written notice of our intention to pursue litigation in the appropriate case should similar violations occur in the future,” Sharp wrote.

    To avoid these future “violations,” Sharp offered four recommendations — designate the superintendent as the one who grants outside organizations access to students during the day, require these organizations who want to distribute materials during the day to submit their request in writing specifying the materials’ nature and content; adopt written criteria as to whether or not to allow outside organizations to actively distribute non-educational materials to students during the day, and, the ACLU wants the district to train its employees annually on First Amendment limitations in schools.

  25. Judge Bellew is correct! There is only one person that can legally use that name, that is the Missiah. It is good to find a person that stillhas sense to stand by our heritage. I too, am from Tennessee. Stay strong Judge.

  26. Juliet, I know it’s not easy but I think Freedom From Religion can take up the cause on your behalf. The ACLU needs a plaintiff, I believe. Freedom From Religion takes the forefront and may be able to act on your behalf w/ you remaining anonymous. The ACLU takes up all types of causes. They’re a general practioner. FFR is the specialist, this is what they do. I’m not pushing, I understand your situation. Just giving you info and an option.

  27. And I thank you for your suggestions. Nothing is anonymous around here. It’s not just this issue, it’s the overwhelming disdain these people have for anyone and anything non-white, non-hetero, non-Baptist, non-hunting, and non-wealthy. They had Duck Dynasty Day at the schools because e people on the show “give testimony.” My husband and I are Christians — albeit not of their variety — and we find it offensive and oppressive around here. We were looking for a house to buy, anyway. We’ll just be looking in one of the nearby cities, rather than here.

  28. The reason this world is in so many problems is that (God) is angry
    with what the liberals are doing. The time is now to get our lives back with
    God, & be thankful for what is now left. of what was a Christian Nation.

  29. Maybe God is angry because of what the conservatives are doing. Last I checked my Bible, Jesus talked about feeding and clothing the poor, loving your neighbor as yourself.

  30. I don’t understand why the same charges aren’t leveled at your political leadership to clean out 9/10 of both houses and clean up local corruption.

  31. To Juliet N.

    Your local ACLU probably has a one page cheat sheet re rights of students which, if the Gideons are handing out Bibles, you or other like minded individuals are likewise free to pass out the cheat sheets.

  32. If I were to do anything, I would go the full Monty and sue. I just don’t have that kind of extra energy. It seems like an unnecessary distraction, to me, from what schools are supposed to be doing — educating students. This kind of thing also puts immense pressure to participate on both students and teachers. My suggestion to folks hoping to persuade others to join their religion would be to stop forcing it down people’s throats.

    It’s funny how all these “freedom loving, small government” folks love to use their government pulpits to infringe on others’ rights.

  33. Juliet N.: “No, we’ll just move to a place that’s a little less “Christian.”

    I’ve started that trip, mostly inside my head (heart?). Some of if has to do with folks posting on this blog. Like bill mcwilliams, Rev. A. M. Clark, others of their ilk. Mike’s recommendation to read Hero with a Thousand Faces was a big push. Working with native Americans definitely re-adjusted my world view, and keeps me from physically moving.I will always be influenced by my upbringing, but I vow not controlled.

    Good luck and, if I may, Godspeed.

  34. Oro: Of course, and thank you. I am a Christian and I try to live my life in such a way that others might want to know why, despite all the problems I face, I’m so happy and content. I’m not interested in trying to change the fundies, like the Rev. Clark. People like that have to find their own way. I just won’t be like them, and I won’t subject my children to them.

  35. Juliet, I truly understand your anger and I empathize. Here’ my only request. I am a “freedom loving, small government” person and I am not like these folks in Kentucky. I know MANY folks that are “freedom loving, small government” people and they are not like those people jamming religion down you throats. You’re apparently in the belly of the beast. But, if you get out of there you’ll understand what I’m saying. There was a rally yesterday in DC that included, libertarians, tea party and progressives. They were brought together by Edward Snowden. This is getting little press because it doesn’t fir the message that we are a divided country. Harmony doesn’t sell, conflict does. The duopoly is scared to death of disparate groups like this uniting. It probably scares a few here also who would never be in the same room w/ those evil small government people. Open minds will prevail, I’m a positive person.

  36. Hey Rev – this is why smart people walk away from babbling B.S. pulpit/puppetry.

    We are ALL child’s of G-d.

    Religious fanatics all claim that everyone but themselves is doomed to hell for not believing what they do.

    G-d himself provided human beings to have free will;
    and the right to be imperfect and forgiven.

    He/she also set down the laws of physics;
    if you jump off a building you go splat.

    Any judge who jumps off their “sworn oath of impartiality”
    goes SPLAT out of the robe.

    Humility is a virtue.

    Kindness and consideration also are.

    Thinking thyself holier than all others;
    is why Jesus said woe to Pharisees, Saducees and hypocrits

    who look to have the exalted positions at the head of table.

    N’est-ce pas!

  37. Rev. Clark,
    Did you even research the history and roots of the word “Messiah?” I did and find your assertion just as wrong headed as Lu Ann Ballew. Go back and read what I wrote in this story about it.

    It is amazing how some guy who is too freaking lazy to learn the origin of words in the English language pontificating about word meanings, and profess to know exactly what the supreme being who created the vast fourteen billion year old universe thinks about some the politics of minor carbon based life forms on a minor planet in a remote corner of that universe. Get a life, Rev. and tend to the log in your own eye.

  38. Juliet,
    I dug your comment out of the spam filter. The filter was busy last night, and there were hundreds of spams in it. I hope I found all the real comments before emptying the trash.

    As for your experiences with the school system, I am in agreement. It is amazing to me how much lack of insight otherwise educated people have when it comes to civil rights, the Constitution and the rule of law. I can only imagie the howls if a Muslim group tried to hand out Q’urans to all the kids. Or Mormons handing out the Book of Mormon. I have said little about my own belief system here, but formally, we are members of the Episcopal Church. Wonder what they would say if I showed up to hand out the Book of Common Prayer?

    As for moving, I understand perfectly. There are blue islands in even the reddest states where tolerance is actually practiced. I hope your kids get good services. If you need help dealing with the schools, you know how to get in touch with me and I will be glad to help. I worked on the Jacob Pigford case in Jackson, MS. Jacob was a non-verbal autistic. He had a panic attack and fell to the floor. His teacher, who was built like a fire hydrant, grabbed him and jerked him up from the floor. It was a pretty ugly case.

    There was some home cookin’ between the chancery judge, the teacher, and the school board lawyer. She ruled in favor of the school, and against Jacob’s parents. It is really hard to win an appeal and the state supreme court upheld the verdict. I should note that at the time, while there were a couple of liberal judges on the Supreme Court, but the chief justice was a Dominionist and had support from some other right wing justices. Jacob’s story is at the link below. That was eleven years ago, and my blood pressure still goes up when I think about it. There are some photos in the link and they are hard to look at, even now.


  39. Rev. Clark,
    I do remember the good Benedictine Sisters teaching me something about Jesus throwing the merchants out of the temple and instructing us to give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s. I consider that statement as the original decree to keep religion out of politics. You may want to consider what Ghandi said about liking Christ, but not liking his Christians.

  40. With judges they sometimes take on a role that is not proper. Men judges think they are daddy and women judges think they are mommy. The things they want to impose are not part of the job and transcend the legal dogma they are empowered to inflict on other people. This female judge is doing the mommy thing and her aunt DoeDoe might have been a nun.

  41. LOL – bettykath;

    I’ve always wondered about the possibility that – if G-d would send his only begotten son to test the earth and suffer its pains of humanity – what a tell it would be to say that G-d is black & the joke is upon all Caucasian humanity!

    I’m just sayin…………?

  42. She didn’t used to be angry but all the racism, the misogynistic behaviors, and the general lack of tolerance for “others” finally got to her. Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins, just you wait ’cause she’s waitin’ for ya.

  43. laserhaas, consider the part of the world where Jesus lived. Pretty good chance that he had dark skin. Consider Anwar Al-Sadat.

  44. Not all judges are bad. Excerpt from a Friday10/24 press release:

    In a historic decision five Catholic Worker activists were acquitted earlier this evening of disorderly conduct charges for blocking the main entrance to Hancock Air Base, home of the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard, Syracuse, New York. Hancock is a Reaper drone hub whose technicians pilot weaponized drones over Afghanistan.

    The five went “pro se,” defending themselves in the De Witt town court of Judge Robert Jokl. In his closing statement Fr. Bill Picard said, “We pray for you, Judge Jokl, to have the courage to do the right and courageous thing.”
    After the verdict was announced, the D.A. objected, and the judge said to him that he hadn’t found “mens rea,” Latin for “guilty mind.” The five defendants, with powerful eloquence, convinced the judge that their intent was to uphold, not break, the law. This acquittal marks a major breakthrough by those who have sought to strengthen international law, and stop U.S. war crimes, including extra-judicial murder by the illegal drones.

  45. I’ll have to look. The press release was from a private email. There have been several demonstrations at Hancock in opposition to the drones. Even I have been in attendance but haven’t done the civil disobedience. Those arrested have a long history of anti-war civil disobedience.

  46. In A County BasEd Upon Freedom Of Religion. Uhh It Makes Me Sick To My Stomach
    God Bless This Child And His Mother I Thought It Was A Beautiful Name.Peace And Love……..

  47. Obviously, the judge doesn’t know the origin of the name Joshua. The names Joshua and Jesus both come from the Hebrew name Yeshua. Of course, she would probably claim this is not relevant.

    Or, how about people with the last name Lord? Or the Italian name Salvatore, meaning “savior” (which was Sonny Bono’s actual first name)?

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