Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wisconsin Appellate Court disqualifies judge because of a "Facebook friendship"

At the end of last year, I reported that the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion holding that sometimes, the relationship between a judge and a litigant or lawyer might be a basis for disqualification of the judge but that there is no reason that Facebook “friendships” should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.

More recently, I reported that the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a new Ethics Opinion on whether judges’ social or close personal relationships with lawyers or parties should be considered grounds for disqualification, in which the Committee did not discuss the issue of "Facebook friendships."  See here and here.

I am writing about this today because I just read that the Wisconsin Appellate Court has issued an opinion disqualifying a judge because of an undisclosed "Facebook friendship."

Although the court decided not to create a bright-line rule regarding the use of social media by Wisconsin judges, it ultimately concluded that a judge’s undisclosed social media connection with a party in the case created an appearance of impropriety, and thus, was enough to disqualify the judge.

The court held that the use of social media is not, by itself, enough to disqualify a judge, but on this particular instance, the judge's acceptance of the friendship request amounted to an ex parte communication and “created a great risk of actual bias resulting in the appearance of partiality.”

The case is called In re Paternity of BJM, and you can read the opinion here.

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