Legal Ethics

Judge rebuked for posting on Facebook about trials she was overseeing says ethics panel got it wrong

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At least one mistrial resulted because a Texas judge posted on her Facebook account about trials she was overseeing, a judicial ethics panel noted in its decision rebuking her for the practice.

However, 405th District Judge Michelle Slaughter says she did nothing wrong by discussing the cases on her Facebook page and intends to appeal the determination by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct earlier this month. It imposed a public admonition and required the Galveston County jurist to educate herself about social media ethics rules for judges, according to the Houston Chronicle and the Law & Disorder page of Ars Technica.

In a written statement provided Friday to the Chronicle, Slaughter cited her First Amendment rights and said she had included only publicly available information in her Facebook posts about trials in which she was the presiding judge.

“I will always conduct my proceedings in a fair and impartial way,” she wrote. “The commission’s opinion appears to unduly restrict transparency and openness in government and in our judiciary.”

The commission said Slaughter’s reference to material that wasn’t yet in evidence, as well as a Reuters news article, in her Facebook posts clearly violated ethics rules that were intended to assure the public that judges would oversee cases fairly and impartially. It also pointed out that Slaughter ordered jurors not to discuss the case on social media, but then did so herself.

“Despite her contention that the information she provided was public information, Judge Slaughter cast reasonable doubt upon her own impartiality and violated her own admonition to jurors by turning to social media to publicly discuss cases pending in her court, giving rise to a legitimate concern that she would not be fair or impartial,” the commission wrote.

Courthouse News and Texas Lawyer (sub. req.) also have stories.

Related coverage:

Houston Chronicle (2014): “Judge removed from Galveston case after Facebook postings”

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