Florida Judges May Not Connect With Lawyers Via LinkedIn

As I wrote a few years ago, judges in Florida may not be Facebook friends with any lawyer who may appear before the judge. (Opinion 2009-20, Nov. 17, 2009). Last month, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee made clear that this prohibition extends beyond Facebook. In Opinion Number 2012-12, issued on May 9, 2012, the Committee opined that a judge may not be “connected” to lawyers who may appear before him on any social-networking sitencluding LinkedIn. The inquiring judge had posited that Facebook and LinkedIn have distinctly different purposes–one for personal use and one for professional use. Therefore, the inquiring judge asked, shouldn’t there be different standards for judges’ use of the two sites?

 

The Committee did not agree. Instead, it held that the relevant inquiry is not about the website or social-networking site or its purpose. Instead, the Committee determined that the process of selecting friends or connections “and the fact that the names of those friends or connections are then communicated “often, but not always, selectively to others that violates Canon 2B, because by doing so the judge conveys or permits others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”

Massachusetts judges also may not be friends online with any attorney who may appear before the judge. (Op. No. 2011-6). So can judges in California, although that State’s opinion seems more qualified. (Formal Op. No. 66) (2011). Ethics opinions from Kentucky and Ohio reached a similarly qualified “yes.” (Op. JE-119) (Jan. 2010); (Op. 2010-7) (Dec. 2010).

Other States’ judicial-ethics committees have come out differently than the Florida committee. For example, Judges in South Carolina are not prohibited from being Facebook friends with law enforcement officers and employees who work for the judge, provided there is no discussion of anything related to the judge’s official duties. (Op. No. 17-2009) (Oct. 2009). Judges in New York also are permitted to participate in social-networking, provided the judge otherwise complies with the rules of ethics. (Op. 08-176) (Jan. 2009).

But, in a Pennsylvania decision rendered earlier this year, a court determined that a judge had abused his discretion by not recusing himself from a case in which he was Facebook friends with the defendant, a local politician.

And then there’s the example of the New York criminal judge who was transferred after some of the lawyers who appeared before him complained that the judge had sent them Facebook friend requests.

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Juror’s Friend Fiasco Lands Him in Jail

I recently posted about a juror who was alleged to have sent a Facebook friend request to one of the defendants in the case for which he had been empaneled. The juror was dismissed as a result of his antics. When we last checked in on this young man, he’d been ordered to appear before the court on contempt charges.

According to the Herald Tribune, Jock didn’t help himself at the hearing.  First, he showed up 9 minutes late. Then, he testified about how he came to make the request with a story that was, well, somewhat difficult to believe.  But the real kicker for the court was the bragging Jock did on Facebook after “successfully” getting himself out of jury duty.

Ordering Jock to serve three days in jail, the court was unequivocal about the seriousness of the posts, noting:

I cannot think of a more insidious threat to the erosion of democracy than citizens who do not care.

Well said, well said.

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Juror’s Facebook Friend Request . . . With a Twist

In December 2011, Sarasota juror Jacob Jock was removed after it was discovered that he’d sent a friend request to one of the defendants. At the time, the judge did not charge Jock with contempt, electing instead to dismiss him from the jury.  Unfortunately, this is not the first instance we’ve seen involving a juror’s friending of a party in the case.

But this is the first time I’ve seen the twist that comes next.  The judge has charged Jock with a misdemeanor count of criminal contempt of court, setting a February 16 hearing.  Te reason for the change of heart?  Apparently, the judge has reason to believe that Jock sent the friend request intending to get out of jury duty.  According to the Herald-Tribune, Jock posted on Facebook about his excitement about the success of his efforts, writing:

Score . . . I got dismissed!! apparently they frown upon sending a friend request to the defendant… haha

Well, this is a new one for me. But not likely to be last incident of a juror using social media in an effort to be dismissed from jury duty.

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PA Court Holds that Facebook Friendship Requires Recusal of Judge

Original post written by Lauren Moak at the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas seems to hold that a judge who is Facebook friends with a party in a matter before him must recuse himself as a matter of course; failure to do so, in this particular case, resulted in the judge’s decision being overturned. Does this mean that Pennsylvania judges will be subject to a new, lower standard for recusal?

On May 1, 2011, Pennsylvania State Representative Cherelle Parker was arrested for drunk driving. During a hearing in November 2011, the presiding judge, the Honorable Charles Hayden suppressed the testimony of the arresting officers, finding that, due to conflicting evidence, the officers’ testimony was “impossible” to believe.

After the Court issued its decision, the Attorney General became aware that Judge Hayden was Facebook “friends” with Representative Parker. Judge Hayden refused to recuse himself and the Attorney General appealed the case to the Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court. In January 2012, the Court issued an order reversing Judge Hayden’s ruling and ordering that he recuse himself from the case.

The basis for the Court’s order was its determination that Judge Hayden had abused his discretion by not recusing himself from the case, reports WHYY’s Newsworks. (Note: As of this post, we’ve been unable to locate a copy of the court’s order. Thus, our information is limited to the news reports. If you have a copy of the order, we’d appreciate having a look at it.)

This approach, however, seems likely to cause problems. Take this case for example: Judge Hayden has more than 1,500 Facebook “friends,” and Representative Parker has more than 4,500 Facebook “friends.” Moreover, Pennsylvania judges are elected, making them politicians of a sort. In this day and age, it is not unusual for politicians to have aids manage their social media accounts, especially when they are used for professional rather than personal purposes. Finally, most people with Facebook accounts will readily acknowledge that there is a real difference between a friend and a Facebook “friend.” Indeed, Representative Parker’s attorney asserts that she and Judge Hayden had no personal connection beyond their Facebook accounts.

Editor’s Comments by Molly DiBianca

Social-media activity by judges is an issue not likely to go away any time soon. Although many, if not most, judges do not use social-media sites like Facebook for personal use, it seems inevitable that this statistic will change and the number of judges who engage in social media will increase. This raises at least two questions. First, how, if at all, does the use of social media (and, particularly, social-networking sites), by judges affect their ability and/or perceived ability to remain impartial when an online “friend” is before them in the courtroom? Second, should bar associations opine about and/or take a formal position with respect to this question?

Ethics committees in at least five states have issued advisory opinions regarding online friending of attorneys by judges. All but one of the states to have addressed the question has come out on the side that friending an attorney who may appear in the judge’s courtroom is not, per se, impermissible, provided that the judge complies with the rules of ethics in all other respects, including impartiality. (Committees in Ohio South Carolina, and Noth Carolina have issued advisory opinions that permit judge-attorney friending; Florida’s ethics body concluded that such friendships were not appropriate).

But the story addressed in Lauren’s post, above, deals with a separate issue–specifically, whether the existence of a Facebook friendship between a judge and a party requires the judge recuse himself as a matter of course. Although the Pennyslvania court seems to have decided the answer to this query is “yes,” I am not convinced that it is quite that simple.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the issue–can a judge who is Facebook friends with a party (plaintiff or defendant) remain impartial or should he be required to recuse himself because of that online connection?

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Illinois Supreme Ct. to Hear Blogging-Juror Appeal

In 2004, a 34-year-old man was struck and killed by a Metra train near Berwyn, Illinois. His family sued and the jury awarded them $4.7 million.  After the trial, Metra learned that one of the jurors, Eve Bradshaw, kept a running commentary during the trial and deliberations on her personal blog, The Green Room.  The court had given jurors instructions not to communicate about the case.  

She wrote about the trial in detail, including her thoughts on witness testimony, the performance of the lawyers, and even the jury’s deliberations. When the lawyers found out about her blog, they asked the court for the opportunity to question jurors about whether they’d been aware of it and the extent that they’d been prejudiced by Bradshaw.  The court denied the motion. 

Metra has now appealed that decision to the state’s highest court, reports NBC Chicago.  The NBC Chicago website has a video featuring some of the more outrageous comments Bradshaw posted.

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Social Media and Court Employees

Social-media policies are the hot topic in the world of employment law.  Questions about the advisability of social-media policies and the legal limits on what these policies may and may not regulate continue to abound.  If it’s a topic of interest, be sure to visit the Delaware Employment Law Blog, where I write about social media and workplace issues regularly.

For this legal professionals who read this blog, I’ll point out a particularly excellent resource on social-media policies:  a Resource Packet for Developing Guidelines on Use of Social Media by Judicial Employees, published last year by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct.

The Packet includes a brief but substantive overview of some of the ethical issues arising from the use of social media by court employees, as well as a primer for those who looking for a fundamental understanding of the tools before moving to regulate those tools. 

The Packet also includes sample language for use when drafting a social-media policy for judicial employees, as well as where to find such policies already in place.

Like the rules of professional conduct, which apply to lawyers’ online activities, the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees applies to all online activities, including social medial.  As explained in the Resource:

The advent of social media does not broaden ethical restrictions; rather, the existing Code extends to the use of social media. 

Although directed to judicial employees, the Resource contains valuable lessons for all legal professionals, as well as for employers generally.

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TX Juror Convicted of Contempt for Facebook Contact

A 22-year-old juror in Texas was found guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced to community service for Facebook friending the defendant in the case to which the juror had been assigned, reports KDAF-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth. Jonathan Hudson had been instructed by the judge in the case not to discuss the matter in any online forum, including on social-media sites such as Facebook. But the young man disregarded the judge’s instructions and posted about the case on his Facebook page. He also was found to have sent a Facebook friend request to the defendant, apparently after the defendant appeared in the juror’s list of “suggested friends,” a list that is generated automatically by Facebook.

For more, see the KDAF-TV report:

http://www.the33tv.com/news/kdaf-facebook-tarrant-county-juror-charged-story,0,1030750.story

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