Is Facebook Friending Between Judges And Trial Lawyers Improper? Even In 2013?

Jan 18, 2013

If you’re a judge and you’re Facebook friends with a lawyer and that lawyer winds up in your courtroom to try a case, does that mean you have a conflict of interests?

FB VS. FAIRNESS:The State Supreme Court may decide whether judges can face Facebook friends in court and still be impartial.

That's what the state appeals court based in West Palm Beach wants the Florida Supreme Court to decide. It's the same court that took Broward County Circuit Judge Andrew Siegel off of a case because, it decided, his Facebook friendship with the prosecutor made it impossible for him to be impartial.

Calling it a "case of great public importance," Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Robert Gross said, "Judges do not have the unfettered social freedom of teenagers."

The Palm  Beach Post wrote on Thursday that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is emphatically not a fan, neither of Judge Gross' understanding of today's Facebook nor his court's decision to disqualify the judge who had friended the prosecutor:

“A sitting circuit judge has been accused, tried, found unethical, reprimanded and disqualified by this court’s three-judge panel, based on a trumped up ‘ethical violation,’ without the judge being given an opportunity to defend himself or take corrective measures of the ethical impropriety,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Georgina Jimenez-Orosa wrote on Bondi’s behalf.

To disqualify judges on such evidence is dangerous, she said. “The impact of this opinion throughout the state of Florida is of monumental importance,” Jimenez-Orosa wrote. “Social media sites are very prevalent in today’s society.”

This link takes you to  Internet Law Commentary blog where there's a synopsis of the Judge Siegel Facebook case and a few other entries that explore how rapidly-evolving social media quickly make rules irrelevant.

Facebook friending in a judicial setting emerged as an issue in 2009 when Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee decided judges and lawyers should not do it.

But three years of social media evolution have taken place since then and, if the state Supreme Court accepts the case, it may have to decide whether Facebook friends are actual friends who have begun real relationships, whether "friending" each other -- considering what Facebook has become in 2013 -- is any more significant than exchanging telephone numbers, and, notwithstanding the conclusions it reaches on the first two questions, whether it should continue to honor the perception of Facebook as an enormous circle of friends, all looking out for each other as we've always understood "friends" to do.