Lowenstein Sandler (Lowenstein) has joined the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and Garden State Equality (GSE) in submitting comments (the Comments) in support of recommendations by two New Jersey Supreme Court rules and program committees regarding the legal name change process in New Jersey. Specifically, the Comments support the recommended changes to the New Jersey Court Rules (the Rules), and in particular Rules 1:38-3 and 4:72-4, that would exclude all adult and minor name change matters from public access and make name changes effective immediately upon issuance of a Judgment for Name Change. The three groups urge that these proposals would protect the privacy and safety of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people, who face a recognized, unique risk from public access to name change records and proceedings.
In October 2020, Lowenstein, TLDEF, and GSE partnered to submit comments in support of proposed Rules amendments to eliminate a requirement that name change applicants publish their former and new names in a newspaper before and after entry of the Judgment for Name Change. The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted those proposed amendments and eliminated the publication requirement in November 2020.
In the March 2021 Comments, Lowenstein, TLDEF, and GSE ask the court to go a step further to protect the identities of name change applicants. Research shows that transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people face a significant, generalized risk of discrimination, harassment, and physical harm based solely on their gender identity. The Comments explain that public access to name change records can fuel these risks by divulging applicants’ gender identity and addresses to potential bad actors. By automatically excluding all name change matters from public access, the court would enable the clients and community the three groups serve to live more complete and open lives by allowing them to formally align their legal name with their lived experience and identity in a manner that protects their privacy and safety. The Comments assert that the recommended changes would further equalize the administration of justice by eliminating the barriers and disparate outcomes arising from the current sealing process.
Importantly, the Comments also suggest ways that the court could continue to make anonymized data about the administration of name change proceedings available to the public based on information it already maintains, which would further the interests of transparency while still protecting the privacy and well-being of name change applicants.
TDLEF, GSE, and Lowenstein also explain that name change hearings–typically held in-person and that applicable rules do not require but judges often schedule automatically–are unduly burdensome, especially for low-income transgender individuals for whom hearings can be incredibly stressful, invasive, and may require taking a day off work to attend. The Comments therefore recommend that the court implement a presumption that no hearing is required unless the judge has cause to order otherwise.
Finally, the Comments state the signatories’ support for the recommendation that Judgments for Name Change become effective simultaneous with their entry. Name change recipients should be able to more quickly update critical identification documents to apply for jobs, school, and public benefits; register to vote; and avoid possible embarrassment or danger from presenting an identification document that is perceived to not match its holder.
About TLDEF and GSE
TLDEF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to ending discrimination and achieving equality for transgender Americans, particularly those in our most vulnerable communities. Through its Name Change Project, TLDEF partners with pro bono volunteers to assist low-income transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people in adopting legal names that conform to their identity. Lowenstein joined with TLDEF in 2015 to launch the Name Change Project in New Jersey and has represented dozens of name change applicants across the state.
GSE is New Jersey’s statewide advocacy and education organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Established in 2004, GSE is the largest LGBTQ advocacy organization in New Jersey, and its services include advocacy, policy work, and training
About Lowenstein Sandler LLP
Lowenstein Sandler is a national law firm with over 350 lawyers based in New York, Palo Alto, New Jersey, Utah, and Washington, D.C. The firm represents leaders in virtually every sector of the global economy, with particular emphasis on investment funds, life sciences, and technology. Recognized for its entrepreneurial spirit and high standard of client service, the firm is committed to the interests of its clients, colleagues, and communities.
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