Judges Friend Defendants and Attorneys

Judges are ‘friending’ defendants and attorneys within social utilities such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and each U.S. state is starting to determine whether such friending is acceptable.  Two notable and conflicting opinions include:

  1. The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee recently stated that judges may not add lawyers who appear, or could appear, before that judge as ‘friends’ on social networks.  (The full opinion is available here). (Source:  Tobias Butler)
  2. In October, the South Carolina Judiciary Department first acknowledged the need for public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, then stated that complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise. Specifically, a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.  As a result, the judge held that “Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge. Thus, a judge may be a member of a social networking site such as Facebook.” (www.judicial.state.sc.us/…/displayadvopin.cfm) (Source:  John Lipsey).

As John Lipsey notes, friending by these professionals will likely increase as more people grow comfortable with social media over time, and the nature of the relationships will be most important, rather than the mere existance of the relationships.  For example, Law.com recently reported a case in Georgia wherein a judge stepped down after 17 years on the bench when officials discovered communications that revealed inappropriate influence between the judge and a defendant he ‘friended’. 

I wrote this to summarize a conversation occuring on the Martindale-Hubbel network for legal professionals.

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