Well, now we have the official answer to the question from the Florida Supreme Court. Last month, the Court released its long awaited decision, holding that
In some circumstances, the relationship between a judge and a litigant, lawyer, or other person involved in a case will be a basis for disqualification of the judge. Particular friendship relationships may present such circumstances requiring disqualification. But our case law clearly establishes that not every relationship characterized as a friendship provides a basis for disqualification. And there is no reason that Facebook “friendships”—which regularly involve strangers—should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.The case is called Law Offices of Herssein & Herssein v United Services Automobile Association. You can read the opinion here.
It seems to me the opinion reaches the correct result, and what it surprising is that the decision was actually 4 to 3. The position of the dissenting judges was that "a judge’s involvement with social media is fraught with risk that could undermine confidence in the judge’s ability to be a neutral arbiter. . . . I would adopt a strict rule requiring judges to recuse themselves whenever an attorney with whom they are Facebook “friends” appears before them. This rule does little to limit the judge’s personal liberty, while advancing the integrity of the judicial branch as the one branch of government that is above politics."
Yet, it is not clear how the fact the friendship originates in Facebook makes it so different from an actual old fashioned "personal" friendship that we need a strict rule.
For more commentary on the opinion go to:
Faughnan on Ethics
The ABA Journal
Lawyer Ethics Alert Blog