February 2019 - What’s in a Name? or The Luck of the Irish!

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

I decided to do something a little different this time and use a double title. That can be looked upon as a feat of great imagination or an example of some poor soul who can’t make up his mind.

Or perhaps both.

Be that as it may, it is, at least to me, apropos in this instance. We all get a surname at birth. I got Millar, which I have dutifully thrice passed on. I grew up understanding that it was a Scotch version of Miller. According to Wikipedia, that is at least partially correct. Miller began as an English occupational surname for a miller—one who operates a mill—which makes eminent sense. Millar was a surname for people from a locale in Glasgow. I have no idea if the Glasgow Millars were also millers. According to Ancestry.com, Millar is the Scottish and Irish variant of spelling Miller.

So I don’t know if I come from a line of mill workers or a line of misspellers.

My wife Nancy is a Kelly which is unequivocally Irish. That may explain why she can spell better than I can.

Of course, we are not stuck with our surname. We can change it. Movie stars do it routinely. I know a woman who married so many times, she joked that she needed her own personal Rolodex to keep track of who she was.

Well, I am not just musing in the abstract. As I often would say to judges who were just about to sustain objections to my questions: “I will connect that, Your Honor.”

Which brings me to Philip Spiwak.

Mr. Spiwak is or was a criminal and bankruptcy lawyer in the Chicago area. (All you English majors please help me out here. If you assume Mr. Spiwak is still alive, but is no longer a Spiwak, do you use “is” or “was?”)

In any event, Mr. Spiwak, who is apparently of Polish descent and a lawyer, wanted to become a judge. Judges in Illinois are determined by partisan election so knowing (or even bribing) a governor won’t help you. Thus, in 2010, he ran for election as a Republican for a spot on the Will County bench.

He lost.

But he didn’t give up.

In the spring of 2011, a study was published in the DePaul Law Review which found—unsurprisingly I should think—that Cook County judicial candidates who appeared to be Irish and female tended to have the advantage in judicial elections. Party affiliation was also a prominent factor. While I am guessing the article did not say so, I suspect Mr. Spiwak tumbled to the idea that Polish male Republicans had a lesser chance. Like, maybe, zero.

If you think where this is headed, you’re right.

He became a Democrat.

In 2012, he also changed his name. He was no longer Phillip Spiwak; he became Shannon P. O’Malley. In 2018 he ran for election under his new nom de justice. According to reports, he did not submit any information to the local bar associations for evaluation.

In November, 2018 he (Shannon was selected as being a gender-neutral name) won. He beat Republican Daniel Fitzgerald by a couple of thousand votes.

It turns out that this was probably not the first time this happened in Illinois, because the state legislature passed a law in 2007 that required ballot candidates who changed their names to disclose their old names on the ballot. The law applied to candidates who changed their names in the last three years. Mr., or now Judge, Spiwak-O’Malley outsmarted the legislature by waiting six years.

That all goes to prove what I call Millar’s moral #67:

If at first you don’t succeed,

Change your name.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.