Readers of this blog know that I’m interested in name change cases, and last week brought another from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Hemphill v. Jones (Okla. Apr. 3, 2014). The majority’s opinion focused not on this name in particular, but on the procedural rules related to civil litigations by inmates more generally; the Justices concluded that “prison inmates have a right of access to the courts of Oklahoma civil matters, although they do not have the right to appear personally,” partly because,

Article 2, Section 6 of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma provides in pertinent part: “The courts of justice of the State shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation ….”

And the Justices took the view that these rules applied equally to name change cases. “This does not mean that the petitioner is entitled to a name change. He is, however, under Oklahoma law, allowed to appear by telephone or other suitable electronic means, rather than in person.”

The dissenters disagreed, and focused more on name change questions:

The petitioner is a thirteen-time convicted felon serving time in prison. He has a lengthy public criminal history beginning in 1993. He already has aliases of Stacey L. Hamphill, Stacey L. Hemphil, Apokalypse Hemphill, Terrance L. Hemphill, Stacey L. Himphill, Laqua Pollard, and Ra Shabazz. Now he wants the Court to order the district court to allow him to get on the telephone and phone in his testimony which would support a legal name change to Apokalypse God Allah. With such a long criminal record and the use of so many aliases, the purpose of the petitioner’s name change must be to disassociate himself with his criminal past and to fraudulently deceive the public of his criminal past, rather than for any lawful purpose….

Article 2, section VI of the Oklahoma Constitution provides:

The courts of justice of the State shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation; and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice.

In a change of name proceeding, there is no wrong or injury which would afford a petitioner the right to access to a court under this constitutional provision. Rather, the right to a name change is a statutory right which can be also restricted by statute. Perhaps the Legislature should consider amending the law to prohibit convicted felons from changing their names….

There are many United States constitutional rights which a person loses upon imprisonment for a felony conviction. The First Amendment right to assemble; the Second Amendment right to bear firearms; the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to vote embodied in the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments are forfeited upon a felony conviction. Additionally, the First Amendment right to free speech is limited….

This is the perfect example of the swarm of inmate recreational litigation clogging our courts. Inmates who engage in recreational litigation by filing cases which are frivolous or malicious, or which fail to state a claim, may forfeit the right to access to the courthouse. Changing one’s name to Apokalypse God Allah is frivolous and is for the fraudulent purpose of hiding the petitioner’s criminal past from unsuspecting victims. The petitioner has no right to bring this frivolous suit….