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Facebook Friend Earns Judge a Reprimand

Opposing counsel are sitting with the judge in his chambers during a child-custody trial when the lawyer for the husband brings up Facebook. The other lawyer says she is a non-user, but the judge quickly agrees to "friend" the lawyer who is on Facebook. As the trial proceeds, the judge and the lawyer comment about it to each other through their Facebook pages, with the lawyer writing in one post, "I have a wise Judge."

Hmmm. Wise in the ways of social networking, perhaps, but lacking something in the judicial-ethics department. When the hearing ended and the judge entered his order, the wife's lawyer found out about their "friendship" and quickly moved for a new trial and for the judge's disqualification. The judge promptly removed himself from the case and the wife got a new trial.

The socially networked North Carolina judge, B. Carlton Terry Jr., also earned himself a public reprimand from the state's Judicial Standards Commission. The judge now agrees "that he will not repeat such conduct in the future" and "will promptly read and familiarize himself with the Code of Judicial Conduct."

Part of the Facebook exchange between the judge and the lawyer involved the weight to be given testimony that one spouse had been unfaithful. During a meeting in chambers the day after the Judge Terry had friended lawyer Charles A. Schieck, Terry told the lawyers he believed the testimony but did not see that it made any difference in deciding custody. Schieck responded, "I will have to see if I can prove a negative."

That evening, Schieck posted on his Facebook account, "How do I prove a negative?" Judge Terry saw it and responded that he had "two good parents to choose from," to which Schieck posted his "wise judge" remark. The next day, the two shared additional messages on Facebook. In one, Schieck wrote, "I hope I'm in my last day of trial." Judge Terry responded, "You are in your last day of trial."

All well and good, if not for that irksome little prohibition against a judge engaging in ex parte communications involving a matter pending before him. And that was not the only way in which this Internet-loving judge went astray of the rules in the case. As the trial started, he took it upon himself to conduct independent research. He Googled the wife and found his way to her business Web site, where he viewed her photographs and read her poems. He even read one of her poems into the record as he announced his findings in the case. It did not seem to trouble him that none of what he saw or read was in evidence.

[Hat tips for this item to The Dispatch and the ABA Journal.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 1, 2009 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)


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