Illinois' highest court ruled that a suburban disabled transgender woman should no longer be denied access to the judicial process because of her gender identity or financial status.
Duann Turner, a 52-year-old low-income transgender woman represented by Lambda Legal, was denied access to the judicial process last summer when the Will County Circuit Court refused to file her papers and provide her an official case number because it felt her request was unnecessary. Turner wanted to begin the process of legally changing her name, and also requested a waiver of court fees. The Illinois Supreme Court ordered the lower court to file her Petition to Change Name and her Application To Sue As a Poor Person.
Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office considers the case a victory. 'From our perspective, this case has always been about providing equal access to the court system,' senior staff attorney Christopher Clark said.
In July 2007, Turner submitted applications to change her name and sue as a low-income individual. According to the lawsuit, Turner was allegedly told by Twelfth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Stephen White that her application was denied because he felt a name change was unnecessary and not urgent.
Illinois law entitles low-income people to a waiver of court fees if they can't afford them. Turner requested that the fees associated with legally changing her name be waived. Lambda Legal filed suit, requesting that the Will County Circuit Court comply with the law so that Turner could begin the name-changing process.
Clark said that although there is no way to estimate how many times the court has failed to comply with the law over the years, individuals across the nation still face unequal access to the judicial process due to bias.
According to Clark, the case highlights that there is not only transgender bias in the court system, but also a bias against low-income individuals. 'It's a victory in both of those respects,' Clark said.
Lambda Legal expects the Will County Circuit Court to comply with the order.