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Judge removed from divorce case after sending one party a Facebook friend request

Posted Jan 29, 2014 6:40 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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A Florida judge who sent a Facebook friend request—which was rebuffed—to a litigant in a divorce she was presiding over has been removed from the case, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

Judge Linda D. Schoonover reached out to litigant Sandra Chace ex parte with the friend request, according to a Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal opinion (PDF). Chace did not accept the request after her lawyer advised her not to.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, Chace’s lawyer alleged that when she denied Schoonover’s friend request, the judge retaliated by giving her most of the marital debt in her divorce, and giving her husband, Robert Loisel Jr., a larger alimony award.

The opinion, published Jan. 24, overturns a prior order that found that Chace’s motion for disqualification was legally insufficient.

“It seems clear that a judge’s ex parte communication with a party presents a legally sufficient claim for disqualification, particularly in the case where the party’s failure to respond to a Facebook ‘friend’ request creates a reasonable fear of offending the solicitor,” the opinion states. “The ‘friend’ request placed the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case, or risk offending the judge by not accepting the ‘friend’ request.”

The American Bar Association examined the issue of judges and “electronic social networking” last year. The finding, Formal Opinion 462 (PDF), holds that judges can use social media, but must comply with relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and avoid anything that would “undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality, or create an appearance of impropriety.”

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