This post comes after a week of discussion on this issue. The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee gave an opinion to this ethics question submitted by a judge: can a judge add lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a social networking site, and permit such lawyers to add the judge as their “friend”? The answer, a resounding NO.
It is an interesting ethics ruling b/c it intends to curb public perception that a lawyer who is friends with a judge on Facebook will be able to exert influence on that judge. The committee determined that such activity conflicts with Ethics Cannons 2A and 2B of the Florida Judicial Code of Ethics, which read:
A. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
B. A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment. 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.
(I added emphasis) – you can read the Cannon’s original context on the Florida Supreme Court’s website.
The ethics committee’s advice to the judge’s question was as follows:
“the test for Canon 2B is not whether the judge intends to convey the impression that another person is in a position to influence the judge, but rather whether the message conveyed to others, as viewed by the recipient, conveys the impression that someone is in a special position to influence the judge. Viewed in this way, the Committee concludes that identifying lawyers who may appear before a judge as “friends” on a social networking site, if that relationship is disclosed to anyone other than the judge by virtue of the information being available for viewing on the internet, violates Canon 2(B).”
Basically, they are saying that people will get the wrong idea if they see lawyers in a judge’s friend list, and so they suggest that judges do not be-friend lawyers on the site. They did not go so far as to say judges can’t have any friends on the site, just lawyers (the minority opinion called for broader bans). We will be discussing this and other ethics issues during our late-January 2010 theme on Martindale-Hubbell Connected, Navigating the Ethical Pitfalls of Social Media.
There is a great summary of the issues on the Legal Profession Blog.
So what do others think about this ruling? Do you think that a lawyer on a judge’s “friends list” can influence that judge in their ruling? Does a judge belong on Facebook at all? What about sites like Martindale-Hubbell Connected that consist mostly of legal professionals who might not have the same impression as the general public? Is there a difference?