According to a recent legal ethics ruling in Florida, lawyers and judges are barred from “friending” on Facebook, Twitter et al. Since when did ethics take on the role of censoring personal relationships?
Judges must not only be beyond reproach, but they must also be seen to be so. We expect few allowances, and in this case, ethics is a rigid rule that they are measured by. And just like everyone else, judges have friends. But how do they maintain this irreproachable air in the context of a social network like Facebook or Twitter?
From the point of view of the public (our stand point), if we were to see that a judge had a friend that was a lawyer, does that alter our view of them? For me personally, it doesn’t change a thing. However, according to a ruling by Florida’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee: “judges and lawyers can no longer ‘friend’ each other on Facebook” .. Twitter et al.
But this presents a problem. Judges must not only be beyond reproach, right? We all agree on that. But they must also be seen to be so, right? Well that’s clearly where things have become problematic, within the context of social networking — if a judge has a lawyer as a friend, from the point of view of Florida’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, that impartiality has been impacted.
My take on this is actually the opposite — in having access to these relationships, we get to see the visible threads of the various relationships of tthose judges and lawyers.
What we don’t get to see are the telephone numbers or home addresses of those same lawyers on the mobile phones and laptops of the judges they are friends with. Why are they not within the scope of this ethical ruling? It’d be interesting to hear what the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee have to say on such data retention that is clearly indicative of an on-going relationship.
“The committee did conclude that a judge can post comments on another judge’s site and that during judicial elections, a judge’s campaign can have ‘fans’ that include lawyers.”
What we’re seeing is the long-standing light of legal ethics being cast on the very amorphous outline of social networking, creating unusual shadows, into which all kinds of dilemmas can hide. In making this ruling, Florida’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee aren’t dealing with the core issue, they’re simply forcing their judges and lawyers to be less visible in their relationships with one another.
Would it not make more sense to ask those lawyers and judges to expand upon the nature of their relationships? After all, this being legal ethics, we would expect more scrutiny and not less, which is effectively what the JEAC is enforcing.
Essentially, the JEAC is sending out the message that they don’t believe Florida judges are fit to preside the impartiality of their own relationships with lawyers and other judges. And not wanting to be too judgmental, I think the JEAC have need to make a better case for their…