Legal Ethics

Judge Reprimanded for Friending Lawyer and Googling Litigant

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A North Carolina judge has been reprimanded for “friending” a lawyer in a pending case, posting and reading messages about the litigation, and accessing the website of the opposing party.

Judge B. Carlton Terry Jr. and lawyer Charles Shieck both posted messages about the child custody and support case heard last September, the Lexington Dispatch reports. Terry also accessed the website of the opposing litigant and cited a poem she had posted there, according to the April 1 public reprimand (PDF) by the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission.

The opinion says Terry and Shieck first discussed Facebook in chambers in the presence of the opposing lawyer in the case, Jessie Conley, who said she didn’t know what Facebook was and didn’t have time for it. After the discussion, Terry and Shieck friended each other. Shieck later posted a Facebook reference to the issue of whether his client had had an affair, saying “How do I prove a negative?” according to the opinion. Shieck also wrote, “I have a wise judge.”

Terry told Conley about Shieck’s posts the day after he read them. The same day during court proceedings he referenced the poem he found and posted a Facebook message that the case was in its last day of trial. After the hearing concluded, Terry disclosed to both parties that he had visited the website of Conley’s client, where he found the poem, and then disqualified himself at the request of Conley.

Terry told investigators the poem had suggested that Conley’s client was not as bitter as he first thought and had given him hope for the litigants’ children. He also cooperated in the investigation, the opinion says.

The opinion says the ex parte communications and the independent gathering of information indicated a disregard of the principles of judicial conduct.

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