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Santa Claus is Cited in Trumbull County

By: Eric E. Skidmore

A Publication of Skidmore & Associates, A Legal Professional Association

‘Twas five days before Christmas 2001, when all through Warren City / Not a being was stirring, not even a kitty / A police officer was coddling his coffee cup with care / In hopes that the departing hour soon would be there.

Suddenly a call crackled over the police radio and the dispatcher exclaimed, "Please proceed to assist in a minor fender bender!" The police officer attacked the last bite of a chocolate iced doughnut, slugged down the rest of his lukewarm black coffee and begrudgingly responded to the call. It was a crisp winter evening. As the patrol car approached the intersection, the police officer could see traffic beginning to back up and meander around the accident scene. He called in on the radio and began to approach one of the damaged vehicles. It was a 1965 Volkswagen 2-door sedan. The driver was a rotund gentleman with a full white beard and wire-framed glasses. The police officer peered down into the vehicle and stated "Sir, let me see your driver’s license". The driver presented his Ohio Identification Card indicating an address of 1 Noel Drive, North Pole USA. The gentleman’s name was "Santa Claus". Santa Claus acknowledged fault and immediately paid cash money on the spot to the individual whose car he had hit. The police officer proceeded to charge Santa Claus with a first-degree misdemeanor of displaying or possessing an identification card knowing it to be fictitious pursuant to Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 4507.30. State v. Hayes, 119 Ohio Misc. 2d 124 (Warren Muni. Court, July 1, 2002).

Well after the holiday season, Santa Claus appeared in Municipal Court in April of 2002 for a hearing upon his motion to dismiss. Id. at 126. No witnesses testified. Id. Santa Claus produced a Certificate of Birth for Santa Claus born at the North Pole the 25th day of December in the year 383 A.D., the son of Mr. Claus and Holly Noel. Dr. Snowflake witnessed and attended. Santa Claus then submitted copies of a number of Ohio Identification Cards (1982-1986, 1985-1990, 1988-1992, 1996, 1997) with his respective photo issued by the State of Ohio to Santa Claus stating his residence at 1 Noel Drive, North Pole, Ohio 44481 or USA. Id. Mr. Warren Hayes is an Ohio licensed driver who does not have an Ohio Identification Card. Id. at 129. Santa Claus is not an Ohio licensed driver. Id. at 126.

It is well settled in Ohio that an individual is prohibited from possessing both an Ohio driver’s license and an Ohio Identification Card at the same time pursuant to ORC 4507.50 (A) and 4507.52. Id. at 125. The municipal court stated the issue as whether Santa Claus’ act of displaying the identification card violated the law – was the identification card “fictitious”? Id. at 128. Santa Claus' motion to dismiss was granted. Id. at 129. The municipal court concluded that the prosecution failed to show Santa Claus knowingly displayed an identification card that was fictitious. Id. at 128-129. The municipal court reasoned that Santa Claus had an ongoing relationship with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles for 20 years, which is not fraudulent, artificiality or contrivance. Id. at 127. The Santa Claus in Trumbull County had more success in adopting the name than a Santa Claus in Franklin County. In re Name Change of Handley, 107 Ohio Misc. 2d 24 (Probate Court, Franklin County, June 8, 2000). In the Handley case, a gentleman petitioned the court for permission to change his name to "Santa Robert Claus". Id. The gentleman looked like and had been acting the role of Santa Claus for over forty years. Id. The court concluded:

"[t]he court finds public policy reasons to deny the petitioner’s request [t]he petitioner is seeking more than a name change, he is seeking the identity of an individual that this culture has recognized throughout the world, for well over one hundred years. Thus, the public has a proprietary interest, a proprietary right in the identity of Santa Claus, both in the name and the persona. Santa Claus is really an icon of our culture; he exists in the minds of millions of children as well as adults." Id.

It is a rare opportunity to report the law while being seasonal at the same time. Although this area of the law is outside my expertise, I could not resist the seasonal attraction of these reported cases. The inference I get from this jurisprudence is if one desires to play the role of and change his or her name to St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle or Spiderman, one is more likely to accomplish the task by the simple expedient of adopting and using the new name rather than petitioning a court for approval.

Santa gave a satisfactory nod, he was unopposed / He gathered his exhibits, from the trial table he rose / He walked from the courthouse to his Volkswagen sedan / And away he went with his identity in hand / But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight / "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!"