Facebooking Florida Judges Beware Who You Friend!

While a judge in Florida may post comments and other material on the pages on a social networking site like Facebook, a judge may not “friend” lawyers who may appear before and may not permit such lawyers to add the judge as their “friend.” This from the latest Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinion issued on November 17. I wonder how many Florida judges will quit the bench over this one?

State Ethics Opinions are hypothetical questions posed to an ethics committee by a member of the state bar. In the Opinion, the Florida Ethics Committee concluded that “friending” other lawyers would violate Florida Ethics Canon 2B. Canon 2B states:

“A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”

To the Florida Committee, listing lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a judge’s Facebook reasonably conveys that these lawyer “friends” are in a special position to influence the judge. Further, the Florida Committee felt that a judge’s participation in a social networking site must also conform to the limitations imposed by Canon 5A, which provides:

Extrajudicial Activities in General. A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not:

Cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge

Undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality

Demean the judicial office

Interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties

Lead to frequent disqualification of the judge

Appear to a reasonable person to be coercive

In this instance, I could only imagine the quandary that some local judge encountered when he realized that a lawyer that practiced in his or her courtroom had “friended” them on their MySpace of Facebook pages. It’s kind of like when your Aunt friends you – you want to say no, but you don’t want to be rude. To me, this is just another sign of the electronic times that we practice in, and how far technology has come is such a small amount of time.