Wednesday, January 24, 2018

May Judges be "Facebook friends" with lawyers? Should Judges be allowed to preside over cases litigated by the judge's "Facebook friends"?

Because two of the state’s appellate districts took opposing views on the issue, the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a judge may be a "Facebook friend" of a lawyer who appears before the judge.

In a short Op-ed piece in the Orlando Sentinel, my friend and colleague Ray McKoski takes on the issue and argues that imposing a per se rule against virtual friendships would be an overreaction given the fact that judges preside over lawyers who they know and are friends with outside of Facebook. As he correctly states:
No ethics rule bars a lawyer from appearing before a judge when the two share an actual friendship. Courts nationwide, including Florida courts, recognize that a judge’s real friendship with an attorney does not disqualify a judge from a case involving the lawyer. The rule permitting judges to preside over cases involving real friends simply cannot be reconciled with the proposition that virtual friendships require a judge’s automatic disqualification.
I tend to agree.  Whether the relationship between a lawyer and a judge is so close as to call the judge’s impartiality into question should be decided on a case by case basis.

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