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Name change victory!


Last year, a Jamaican-born pro bono client of ours was denied a name change in Nassau County, Long Island. Even though we had provided a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship, court policy required producing a Certificate of Naturalization—a document our client was not even eligible to obtain.

We devoted untold hours fighting the denial each step of the way, but the judge was unmoved. Policy was policy.

So we needed to change the policy.

We wrote a memo to Kathryn Hopkins, Chief Clerk of Nassau Supreme Court, who invited us to meet with her, Paul Lamanna, the District Executive (not pictured), and Paul Paoli, Principal Court Clerk.

Charlie Arrowood, Noah Lewis, Kathryn Hopkins, Chief Clerk of Nassau Supreme Court, and Paul Paoli, Principal Court Clerk.

We raised our concerns about the documents the clerk requires. We also objected to the fact that all name-change petitioners in Nassau were required to notify Homeland Security once their name change was granted—even if they were a natural-born citizen.

Shortly afterwards, Nassau revised its policies. They would no longer require people to notify Homeland Security. This greatly simplifies the process for everyone and allows all Nassau residents to get a legal name change regardless of their immigration status.

Nassau also expanded the types of documents the clerk will accept—now, denials such as the one experienced by our client won’t happen to anyone else.

We went back to the judge. Based on the policy change, she granted our client’s name change—more than a year after his initial application.

Our client had given up on getting the name change, but we never stopped fighting for him.

In the process we moved one step closer to ensuring that all New Yorkers can get something simple and life-changing: the ability to be recognized as who they are.