Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet -- but may not attract near as many votes

Readers who remember the late 1970s might remember comedian Bill Saluga, although probably not by that name.

The name of Saluga's most famous character, however, may trigger a recollection: Ray J. Johsnon as in, per Wikipedia, "My name is Raymond J. Johnson, Jr. Now you can call me Ray, or you can call me J, or you can call me Johnny, or you can call me Sonny, or you can call me Junie, or you can call me Junior; now you can call me Ray J, or you can call me RJ, or you can call me RJJ, or you can call me RJJ Jr. * * * but you doesn't hasta call me Johnson!"

Each of us may be known by a variety of names over the course of our lives. A person hoping for election to the bench has to sift through the names that he or she has accumulated over a lifetime and decide which of these may be most attractive to voters.

FWIW readers know that some names are simply more attractive to voters than others. Research has shown that persons possessed of certain obviously Irish names have a particularly good track record in winning election to the Cook County bench. But the law does not allow an ambitious candidate to change his or her name in an effort to win election. Yes, there was a lawyer from Park Ridge a few years back who legally changed his proud Germanic-sounding name to one of those obviously Irish monikers, hoping to get a judicial nameplate with his new surname. But the newspapers found out and his judicial aspirations were abandoned (he later changed his name back to what it had been originally).

Meanwhile, §7-10.2 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7-10.2) and several other provisions of the Election Code were amended in 2007 to include this provision:
If a candidate has changed his or her name, whether by a statutory or common law procedure in Illinois or any other jurisdiction, within 3 years before the last day for filing the petition or certificate for that office, whichever is applicable, then (i) the candidate's name on the petition or certificate must be followed by "formerly known as (list all prior names during the 3-year period) until name changed on (list date of each such name change)" and (ii) the petition or certificate must be accompanied by the candidate's affidavit stating the candidate's previous names during the period specified in (i) and the date or dates each of those names was changed; failure to meet these requirements shall be grounds for denying certification of the candidate's name for the ballot or removing the candidate's name from the ballot, as appropriate, but these requirements do not apply to name changes resulting from adoption to assume an adoptive parent's or parents' surname, marriage to assume a spouse's surname, or dissolution of marriage or declaration of invalidity of marriage to assume a former surname.
So candidates must make do with what the names bestowed on them by their parents or spouse or they can use a diminutive of a given name or a nickname.

But the use of a nickname is problematic and potentially fraught with peril: The Election Code does not allow a candidate to use "a title or degree, or nickname suggesting or implying possession of a title, degree or professional status." An appointed judge, to use an obvious example, can not be listed on the ballot as "Judge Mary Jones." In Rita v. Mayden, 364 Ill.App.3d 913 (1st Dist 2006), a candidate who filed petitions for the Illinois State House as Michael E. Mayden ("THE COACH") was removed from the primary ballot because, although it was undisputed that the candidate was a volunteer baseball coach and many people called him Coach, "Mayden's use of the designation 'THE COACH' did more than merely identify him in the way that a name or common nickname does. 'THE COACH' is a title meant to communicate information about Mayden's volunteer work and his special status in the community," and therefore violated the Election Code. (346 Ill.App.3d at 921.) A judicial candidate may wish to seem accessible and down to earth by using a nickname, but the label slapped on the candidate in his long-ago grammar school days (e.g., "Stinky"), may deprive the candidate of some of the gravitas necessary for a judicial candidate.

Nor can a nickname be a political slogan. A "political slogan" is defined by §17-7 of the Election Code "as any word or words expressing or connoting a position, opinion, or belief that the candidate may espouse, including but not limited to, any word or words conveying any meaning other than that of the personal identity of the candidate. A candidate may not use a political slogan as part of his or her name on the ballot, notwithstanding that the political slogan may be part of the candidate's name." Lar "America First" Daly wouldn't get on the ballot today, at least not with that middle name. Nancy "No New Taxes" Jones could not get on the ballot with that name either, even if her parents had her christened with it.

So today's judicial candidate can't change her name, can't list her degrees or other titles, and has to be pretty darned careful if she decides to choose a nickname. And she must decide how her name will appear on the ballot before getting her petitions printed. FWIW asked election law attorney James P. Nally about this. Nally explained, "The Illinois State Board of Elections policy is to certify the candidate's name as it appears on the first page of the petitions for nomination submitted by the candidate. Since the State Board of Elections certifies the names of judicial candidates, a judicial candidate's name would be certified and appear on the ballot just the way it appears on the nomination petition." (Local election authorities might have a different policy for candidates for local offices, such as taking the ballot name from the candidate's statement of candidacy, Nally said.)

The bottom line is that if Raymond J. Johnson, Jr. circulates petitions using that name, he can't be Ray J. Johnson on the ballot -- even though, once he starts campaigning, he finds that actual voters much prefer the shorter form of his name. Just another thing that judicial candidates stress about....

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