Fabulous Facebook Follies of 2009
For lawyers, Facebook could
prove to be a practice area unto itself. As a place where anyone can be
anyone else's friend, where words and pictures land too casually and remain too
long, and where people have a propensity to publicize their private
acts, the social networking site is a breeding ground for legal trouble.
my look back at some of the stories covered at Legal Blog Watch during
2009, I could hardly ignore Facebook and the many facets of law
reflected by those who use it. Herewith, my picks of the top five
Facebook legal stories of 2009.
First place goes to the decision of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to screen the Facebook and other social-networking pages of applicants to the bar. As Carolyn Elefant reported here in August,
the board mercifully decided against requiring all applicants to give
it access to their Facebook pages. Instead, it will decide whether to
investigate social networking pages on a case-by-case basis.
When and if it does decide to investigate an applicant, it will be
looking for "whether they discussed or posted photographs of any recent
substance abuse" or examples of "significant candor concerns."
you make it through the application process and earn your wings as a
lawyer, do not presume your candor is in the clear. Our second place
honor goes to the somewhat creepy report that judges may be watching you on social media.
Our post picked up on a Texas Lawyer article in which Galveston
District Court Judge Susan Criss related how she caught a lawyer in a
lie thanks to the lawyer's bragging on her Facebook account.
turnabout is fair play, we are justified in awarding third place to the
news that judges, too, are being watched on Facebook. Ethics panels have issued rulings
in both Florida and South Carolina on what judges can and cannot do on
Facebook. Notably, Florida concluded that judges may not "friend"
lawyers who may appear before them. The ethical guidance came too late
for North Carolina Judge B. Carlton Terry Jr., who was reprimanded after he not only friended a lawyer who was appearing before him but also exchanged comments about the case.
surprisingly, lawyers are doing some watching of their own on Facebook,
using social-networking sites to vet opponents and witnesses. Fair
enough, given that whatever someone posts to Facebook is potentially
discoverable. But our fourth place goes to the caution issued by the
Philadelphia Bar Association's ethics committee that lawyers should not use deception in order to friend someone on Facebook and gain access to the person's restricted pages.
Our final honor goes to the news that Facebook not only can get you into legal trouble but also out of it.
For Rodney Bradford, his Facebook status update became his alibi when
he was arrested for a robbery. Prosecutors subpoenaed Facebook and
verified that his update was typed at the same time as -- and on a
computer some distance from -- the robbery. The charges were dropped and
Bradford made legal history as the first criminal suspect to use a
status update as alibi evidence.
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 8, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Permalink
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