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Transgender Attorney Says Judges And Clerks Have Harassed Her; Fights For Change

CHICAGO (CBS) -- She's a transgender attorney who says she's been repeatedly harassed and discriminated against in court. The other problem? The state's ethics rules for attorneys actually allow that.

Morning Insider Tim McNicholas takes us inside her fight for stronger protections.

Her name is Sheryl Ring. It's printed on the official card issued to licensed attorneys in Illinois.

But that hasn't stopped a revolving door of problems at one courthouse after another across Chicagoland.

"I have judges out me," she said. "Dead-name me," meaning using her birth name after she had it legally changed.

"I have been misgendered or called slurs from the bench," she added. "I have had judges who simply call me sir."

She said, in one case, a court clerk has willfully refused to use her legal name.

Ring sued the Winnebago County Clerk of the Circuit Court in August, accusing them of using her pre-transition name in court proceedings and e-filings, leaving her clients confused, despite her repeated requests to be called by Sheryl Ring – her name since 2017.

"I do believe it was deliberate," she said. "I should not have to disclose my gender identity to every client or to every client in a certain jurisdiction."

She said that clerk's office finally started calling her Sheryl Ring last week, but her fight isn't over.

Ring is also calling for changes to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct—an ethics code for attorneys—including judges and clerks.

"There is not any kind of ramifications for a judge being transphobic right now, for an attorney being transphobic right now, for a clerk being transphobic right now," she said.

The code says an attorney can be reprimanded for discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age, or several other factors—but gender identity is not listed.

California, on the other hand, does list gender identity.

Northwestern University legal professor Kim Yuracko said there could be a legal argument that gender identity falls under the sex protection, but that's not guaranteed to hold up in court.

"It is a weakness. It would be stronger if it spelled out the protection," Yuracko said.

The Illinois Supreme Court told us they're currently reviewing their rules of professional conduct, and they're dedicated to equal justice, free from discrimination and harassment.

"It should not be okay to discriminate in Illinois against trans people if you're an attorney, and right now it is," Ring said.

For now, Ring said the door keeps spinning.

The Winnebago County Circuit Clerk's office said they can't comment on the lawsuit and directed us to their attorney. We are still waiting to hear back from them.

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