Prizm News / March 19, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby (photos via Facebook)

‘Unreasonable’ ruling ignored parents’ support and boy’s best interests, review finds.

By Bob Vitale

A Southwest Ohio judge abused his authority last summer with an “unreasonable” and “arbitrary” decision to deny a legal name-change to a 15-year-old transgender boy, a state appeals court has ruled

In overturning a June 2018 decision by Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby, the 12th District Court of Appeals admonished the Republican jurist for injecting himself into a matter where the boy’s parents should have been given deference. 

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The court noted that Kirby looked at the boy’s request as a sign of immaturity and his parent’s support only as a desire to assuage their child. The appeals court ruling did not name the boy or his parents. He’s referred to with male pronouns but with the initials of the legal name he wants changed, “H.C.W.” 

“In contrast to ‘assuaging’ H.C.W.’s preference to change his name, the record plainly shows that the parents engaged a therapist specializing in transgender issues, kept H.C.W. in therapy for a year, consulted with the therapist, consulted with Dr. (Lee Ann) Conard of (Cincinnati) Children’s Hospital concerning testosterone therapy, associated with a support group, and had extensive discussions among themselves before seeking the name.” 

Because the boy is younger than 18, the name-change application was filed in court by his mother and father, who support his transition and desire to change his legal name. The boy’s mother told Kirby during last year’s hearing that a name change was in her son’s best interest, and his father told Kirby that he thought it was best to make the name change legal before his son got his driver’s license, filled out college applications and went through other rites of passage. 

The boy told Kirby that he is called his preferred name at school but is subject to occasional distress because official records list the female name he wanted to change. 

Kirby, who asked the boy whether he was influenced by “all of this stuff” in the media—he later said he was referring to Caitlyn Jenner—ruled that a legal name change was not “reasonable and proper and in the child’s best interest at this time.” He said the boy was “could be motivated by short-term desires or beliefs that may change over the passage of time as the child matures.”

“The court recognizes the reality that (the boy’s) brain is still growing and changing and is simply not ready to make this life-altering decision,” Kirby ruled. 

Although the appeals court reversed Kirby’s decision, it didn’t grant the boy his name-change. Instead, the court ordered the Warren County Probate Court to reconsider the boy’s application based on the law. 

Bob Vitale
A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, Bob has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.