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.

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Comments on “Judge Disqualified From Case Because He's 'Facebook Friends' With The Prosecutor”

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kenichi tanaka says:

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.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:


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.

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