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Another State Opines on Judges and Facebook

Last week, Legal Profession Blog reported on a Nov. 17 opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee concluding that judges may not "friend" lawyers who may appear before them on social networking sites such as Facebook. Now, Legal Profession Blog finds another ethics opinion on judges' use of Facebook, this one from South Carolina.

The South Carolina opinion, issued in October, concerns a narrower issue than did the one from Florida. It addressed friending by judges, but not of lawyers who may appear before the judges. Instead, it addressed the question of whether a judge may friend law enforcement officers and employees who work in the judge's office.

The South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct concluded that a judge may be a member of Facebook and may friend law enforcement officers and employees as long as they do not discuss anything related to the judge's official position.

"Complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives," the opinion said. "Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge. Thus, a judge may be a member of a social networking site such as Facebook."

The South Carolina opinion is not inconsistent with the Florida opinion. Both recognize that a judge may ethically be a member of Facebook and other social networking sites. Florida's opinion even echoes the earlier S.C. one when it says, "Judges cannot isolate themselves from the real world and cannot be expected to avoid all friendships outside of their judicial responsibilities."

The key difference between the two opinions is in who a judge may friend without calling into question the judge's impartiality and integrity. A judge who friends courtroom employees provides no cause for concern, South Carolina says, but a judge who friends courtroom advocates does, Florida finds.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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