Confidentiality is critical to the legal profession. Lawyers’ ethical duty to keep client information confidential has been a primary area of concern when it comes to social media and lawyers’ use of sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The undeniable reality is that the Internet makes it easier than ever to disclose confidential information to a wider audience than ever ever previously possible. The concern about the potential for breached confidences is not limited to lawyers, though. Judges, of course, also have access to confidential information and, like lawyers, are bound by a code of ethics that requires them not to breach the duty of confidentiality. And, like lawyers, judges also have access to social media. A recent story about a judge in Ohio demonstrates how dangerous this mix can be.
More than 80 anonymous, opinionated comments posted on a newspaper’s website were traced back to the personal AOL e-mail account of Ohio Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. Many of the comments related to her high-profile cases.
Saffold’s 23-year-old daughter claimed responsibility for the comments but an examination of the judge’s court-issued computer shows that it was used to access the websites at the exact dates and times that the comments were posted. Comments included personal attacks against an attorney’s performance during trial and a statement that a defendant in a murder case was given a lenient decision by a jury because of his race.