Judge Disqualified From Case Because He's 'Facebook Friends' With The Prosecutor

from the a-facebook-friend-doesn't-always-mean-a-friend dept

A few years back, we noted an ethics opinion in Florida that stated that judges cannot be Facebook friends with lawyers who may appear before them in court. As we noted at the time, this seemed to go pretty far, as Facebook friends didn't mean "personal" friends, and there are lots of people who use Facebook just to connect with anyone they know. Furthermore, there are plenty of reasons why judges and lawyers might know each other through other paths as well. Either way, because of that opinion, a judge in Florida has been disqualified from a case for being Facebook friends with the prosecutor. The other party in the case sought to disqualify the judge claiming that on his Facebook, his "friends" were "only [his] closest friends and associates, persons whom [he] could not perceive with anything but favor, loyalty and partiality."

Oddly, as Venkat Balasubramani notes in the link above, the ruling to disqualify the judge did not focus on the facts around friendship, but around the claim that it's sort of announced publicly. As Venkat notes:
I'm still struggling to see how this is different from other forms of social interaction between lawyers and judges. Social interaction between judges and lawyers happens all the time and is not a basis for disqualification. I think there may be a bit of Facebook exceptionalism going on here.
Related to this, and at the same link, Eric Goldman points out that if we're weighing two different issues: (1) having a judge that understands Facebook and how social interaction commonly works today and (2) the "small possibility of apparent impropriety" it seems that having judges who understand social networking is a more important goal in today's society.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Nigel (profile), Sep 12th, 2012 @ 4:35pm

    Just think if this happened because they play golf together.

    The wheels of justice would come to grinding halt.

    N.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 4:57pm

    I don't use Facebook, but isn't friending someone basically adding them to your contacts list? From that perspective, it'd be like disqualifying the judge because the prosecutor knew his phone number.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 5:18pm

    Just another example for the history books of how doing something innocuous (being friends) "on the internet" is totally different, and much more sinister, than doing that thing normally.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 5:29pm

    i have a patent on that. pay up

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    MahaliaShere (profile), Sep 12th, 2012 @ 6:08pm

    Perhaps someone can explain how this is worse than a RIAA lobbyist becoming a judge.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Joseph, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 6:52pm

    Status Updates

    If the prosecutor were to post something about the case on his Facebook account wouldn't the judge see it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    pyro, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 7:13pm

    Re: Status Updates

    Do you think that would ever happen?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    kenichi tanaka, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 7:40pm

    While I think this issue is kind of ridiculous to be disqualified for, I have to agree with the court who ruled against this judge that it does present a problem for any presiding judge who is 'socially' active on any type of level with any judge that attorney or prosecutor has any type of relationship with.

    Not only does it present a problem for that judge but that there would be immediate grounds for a appeal based on the fact that the judge had a "perceived" relationship with an attorney or the prosecutor, whichever the case may be.

    This judge should have automatically disqualified himself from hearing the case based on the fact that there might be bias on the judge's behalf. It doesn't matter if the judge didn't exert influence for the facebook "friend", there would be a perceived disadvantage for the opposing attorney.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 9:25pm

    Why wasn't this brought up in the TPB case?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    kenichi tanaka, Sep 12th, 2012 @ 10:04pm

    Because that is in a different country.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 12:27am

    Re: Re: Status Updates

    People are morons in groups, so nothing would surprise me: criminals have been cauight by being friends with a police officer on Facebook.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 1:53am

    so how long before judges are forced to become 'loners'? are they to be allowed only to communicate with family members and other judges? seems to me to be a bit discriminating really. how long before witnesses are banned because they have the same hobby or name as an accused?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 2:13am

    See, here's the thin

    This guy has been forcibly recused from a case because he "knew" the prosecutor on the internet. But proven direct links to known lobbying associations is perfectly fine to allow in other cases.

    On what planet is that a reational decision?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:20am

    Re:

    If they were playing golf together a MAFIAA representative would be there and they would be appointed as judge and prosecutor in file sharing cases. Impartial, fair and balanced =)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Mark Harrill (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 5:56am

    Donations...

    So if you can be disqualified as a judge because you are a facebook friend with a lawyer, what do you do about the judges who take campaign contributions from lawyers who appear in their courts? (which is nearly all of them by the way, that's how judges fund their campaigns, other lawyers...)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Cowherd, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 6:51am

    Re:

    Yes, it is basically just a contact list. But it's Facebook's fault for using a word that implies a closer relationship.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re:

    Once I attended a conference with one of the original programmers of Twitter. He basically said they changed the whole "friend/unfriend" terminology to the "follow/unfollow" one, because people would angst over "why has person x unfriended me? are we no longer friends? what did I do?", and logically users were more wary of "unfriending" their contacts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    iambinarymind (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 12:57pm

    Silly....

    They both represent the State and are paid via stolen funds (aka the euphemism "taxation").

    If this type of conflict of interest really mattered, we wouldn't allow the State to hold a monopoly on the so called "justice system".

    I prefer consensual relationships (see "voluntaryism").

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:35am

    Re:

    PLEASE tell me that was a joke!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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