Should judges accept as Facebook friends lawyers who might appear in their courts? The audience at Saturday's Georgia Bar, Media and Judiciary Conference was about evenly divided on that question.
We asked the lawyers at the conference if they would consider asking a judge to recuse if he or she was a Facebook friend with an opposing attorney. Thirty-four said yes and 36 said no.
If you're a judge in Florida, the boundaries are clear. The Florida Bar has issued ethics opinions forbidding judges from accepting as Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections any lawyer who might appear before them.
A Florida appeals court recently disqualified a judge in a case where he was friends with the prosecutor, and that case has resulted in a certified question to the Florida Supreme Court: "Where the presiding judge in a criminal case has accepted the prosecutor assigned to the case as a Facebook 'friend,' would a reasonably prudent person fear that he could not get a fair and impartial trial, so that the defendant's motion for disqualification should be granted?"
The Florida Supreme Court hasn't responded yet, but we asked our audience for their ruling. Thirty-four said yes to disqualification, and 31 said no.
Other findings of our conference survey: Of those who answered, 69 percent said they had a Facebook page, and 18 percent of that group claimed judges as friends. Sixty-five percent are on LinkedIn; 43 percent on Twitter. Eighteen percent self-selected on this question as "none of them, ever."
The Georgia Bar hasn't directly addressed social media questions, but the American Bar Association did so last week. ABA formal opinion 462 concludes that, with proper care, electronic social media doesn't compromise a judge any more than old-fashioned forms of social connection such as the U.S. mail, the telephone or email.