Judge in 'Messiah case' issued public censure

(WBIR-Dandridge) 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.

In May 2013, Ballew, then a child welfare magistrate for Jefferson, Sevier, Cocke and Grainger Counties, heard the child custody hearing of Jalessa Martin and Jawaan McCullough's son Messiah. Ballew ordered that the boy's name be changed to "Martin McCullough," stating the name "Messiah" is not the best interest of the child.

In a 10News Exclusive in August, Ballew told us she stood by her decision, despite Martin's disapproval. In January, the decision was overturned by a higher court.

A month later, Ballew was removed from the bench.

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.

Previous story:

(WBIR-Dandridge) A Cocke County judge appeared in court Monday morning to defend her actions for demanding a mother and father to change their baby's name from "Messiah."

Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew has stood by her ruling, arguing that "Messiah" is actually a title earned only by Jesus Christ.

The State Board of Judicial Conduct said Ballew violated the judicial code of conduct, ruling Ballew was biased in her decision. Today a panel of six, who are mostly judges, will hear from the judiciary disciplinary council and Ballew's attorney.

"Was it for a personal gain or a satisfaction? Ladies and gentlemen, I would submit to you yes it was," said Tim Discenza, disciplinary council in the court of the judiciary. "A judge is required to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence and the independence, the integrity and impartiality in the judiciary."

"She makes the difficult decision, respects the constitutional right of the parents to name, but also doesn't disregard the state's legitimate interest in protecting the most vulnerable of its citizens," said Ballew's attorney Brent Layman.

10News Exclusive: Messiah case judge doesn't think she acted illegally

Ballew faces public reprimand or public censure with decision from the panel. Ballew has maintained the decision was best for the child, especially if he grows up in a county with a large Christian population. This case made national headlines last summer.


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