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Legal Ethics

Judges Shouldn’t ‘Friend’ Lawyers Who Appear Before Them, Opinion Says

Posted Dec 10, 2009 8:22 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Florida ethics opinion says judges may post comments and other materials on social networking sites, but they shouldn’t friend lawyers who may appear before them.

In a Nov. 17 opinion, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee says the problem is the impression of influence. Friending a lawyer does not mean the person has actual influence over the judge, the opinion says, but the impression is there.

The Legal Profession Blog noted the opinion, later picked up on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Judges aren’t barred, however, from friending lawyers who can’t appear before them, either because the lawyers don’t practice in the jurisdiction or they are on a recusal list, the opinion says.

Another portion of the opinion says judicial campaign committees may create social networking sites that allow lawyers to designate themselves as “fans” of the judge’s candidacy. However, the judge or the campaign committee should not have the ability to control who gets to be a fan.

“Because the judge or the campaign cannot accept or reject the listing of the fan on the campaign's social networking site, the listing of a lawyer's name does not convey the impression that the lawyer is in a special position to influence the judge,” the opinion says.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog wonders whether the ethics committee is being too cautious.

“I’ve friended friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, people who claim to know me, people from my past I barely remember, and people who probably requested my ‘friendship’ completely by mistake or through some sort of elaborate spam ruse that I’m not smart enough to figure out,” the Law Blog writes.

“In other words, while ‘friending’ connotes a level of intimacy greater than, say, an exchange of business cards, it falls well short of establishing or confirming true friendship.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Dozens of Judges Are Getting LinkedIn, Blogger Notes”

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