Bar audience evenly divided on social media-inspired recusal
4:33 pm, February 26th, 2013
Should judges accept as Facebook friends lawyers who might appear in their courts? The audience at the Georgia Bar, Media and Judiciary Conference Saturday was about evenly divided on that question.
We asked the lawyers at the conference if they would consider asking a judge to recuse if he or she was Facebook friends with an opposing attorney. Thirty-four said yes, and 36 said no.
If you’re a judge in Florida, Facebook boundaries are clear. The Florida Bar has issued ethics opinions flat-out forbidding judges from accepting as Facebook friends or Linkedin connections any lawyer who might appear before them.
A Florida appeals court recently disqualified a judge in a case where he was friends with the prosecutor, and that case has resulted in a certified question to the Florida Supreme Court: “Where the presiding judge in a criminal case has accepted the prosecutor assigned to the case as a Facebook ‘friend,’ would a reasonably prudent person fear that he could not get a fair and impartial trial, so that the defendant’s motion for disqualification should be granted?”
The Florida Supreme Court hasn’t responded yet, but we asked our audience for their ruling. Thirty four said yes to disqualification, and 31 said no.
Our survey wasn’t scientific, of course, and may have been reflective of the audience’s social media quotient. Of those who answered our survey, 69 percent said they had a Facebook page, and 18 percent of that group claimed judges as friends. Sixty-five percent are on Linkedin, and 43 percent on Twitter. Eighteen percent self-selected on this question as “none of them, ever.”
The Georgia Bar hasn’t directly addressed social media questions, but the American Bar Association did so last week, and it seemed to say: go ahead, but be careful.
ABA formal opinion 462 offers the usual cautions that judges must conduct themselves in a matter that promotes public confidence in their independence, integrity and impartiality. After carefully loading up on these caveats, the opinion comment concludes that, with proper care, electronic social media doesn’t compromise a judge any more than old-fashioned forms of social connection such as the U.S. Mail, the telephone or email.