I have written about the dangers of social media and people who are in court in my blog. Just as people who litigate in court must be careful about the use of social media, so do judges and lawyers. The American Bar Association cautioned judges about this problem and now a Judge in Florida has been disqualified from a divorce case because of social media.
In the Florida case, a judge presiding over a divorce sent a “friend request” to the wife in the divorce before rendering a judgment. This put the wife in a very difficult position. If she rejected the request would the Judge retaliate in the Judgment? If she accepted the request would that consitute improper ex-parte communications with the judge? Could the husband attack the judgment because of the new relationship?
Judges are suppose to be impartial so that they can make a decision free of improper influences. Connecting with someone in a non-professional manner on social media should be grounds for removing the judge from a case. Judges should not friend lawyers or litigants unless they have a prior relationship with that person such that there is already a conflict of interest preventing the judge from hearing the case. Lawyers must avoid the appearance of impropriety and should not ask Judges to friend them. If a lawyer does have a social media relationship with a judge, they should reveal this to the other side as soon as possible.
To the extent possible, it is not a bad idea for a litigant to look at the social media identities of the opposing lawyer and the judge assigned to the case. If some contact is found that raises questions, an experienced lawyer should be consulted to ask about any possible concerns as a result.