(UPDATE): Lawyers & Judges: Be Careful Who You Friend

Several months ago, I wrote about an interesting case in Florida; the post discussed a Florida appellate decision holding that a trial court judge should have recused himself because he was Facebook friends with the prosecutor. Summarizing from Lawyers & Judges: Be Careful Who You Friend:fbkgavel-a

In Domville v. State, — So.3d —-, 2012 WL 3826764 (Fla. App. 2012), the defendant moved to disqualify the trial court judge because of the judge and the prosecuting attorney were Facebook friends. Id. at *1 (“Petitioner Pierre Domville moved to disqualify the trial judge. The motion was supported by an affidavit averring that the prosecutor handling the case and the trial judge are Facebook ‘friends.’ This relationship caused Domville to believe that the judge could not ‘be fair and impartial.’”). The trial court denied the motion and Domville appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court and concluded that “[A] judge’s activity on a social networking site may undermine confidence in the judge’s neutrality. Judges must be vigilant in monitoring their public conduct so as to avoid situations that will compromise the appearance of impartiality.” Id. at *2. And since Domville had “alleged facts that would create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial,” id., the appellate court reversed the trial court and disqualified the trial court judge.

According to the ABA Journal, Florida courts are now looking to the Florida Supreme Court for guidance on the issue. As noted in Should a judge recuse due to Facebook friendship with prosecutor? Florida supremes asked to decide:

A Florida appeals court wants guidance on an ethics issue: Should judges recuse from cases when they are Facebook friends with the prosecutor?

The 4th District Court of Appeal said on Wednesday that the matter is of great importance, and the Florida Supreme Court should decide the issue . . . .

It will be interesting to see how this case continues to develop. It is hard for me to imagine a world where judges must recuse themselves if they are Facebook friends with counsel. Most judges are former lawyers, worked for years with other lawyers, and continue to associate with lawyers. That a judge is a Facebook friend with another lawyer is no surprise at all. Personally, I am Facebook friends with several judges, most of whom were my “friends” before they took the bench. That we are “friends” says nothing (in my mind) about the judge’s ability to act impartially with respect to the matters before it. If we can be “friends” in real life, can’t we be friends on social networks?

The Florida Supreme Court should find that judges and lawyers can be Facebook friends without violating any ethical rules and that the “friendship” does not require recusal (absent additional factors).

 

About Tyson Snow

Tyson B. Snow is a partner at Pia Anderson Dorius Reynard & Moss, LLC, in Salt Lake City. He is considered an expert on social media law, particularly social media law's impact on the workplace and employment. His practice involves all areas of federal court litigation with an emphasis in employment litigation, commercial litigation, and intellectual property litigation, including trademark disputes, cybersquatting, copyrights, and other technology related issues. He also frequently litigates in Utah’s state district and appellate courts. Email: tsnow@padrm.com Twitter: @tysonESQ

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