Annual Meeting 2011

Panelists: Judges Should Watch Whom They 'Friend' on Social Media and What Friends Post About Them

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“When in Rome.” That was the motto extolled Saturday at the ABA Annual Meeting Toronto by a group of jurists who endorsed the use of social media in—and out—of the courtroom.

However, adherence to the code of judicial conduct should always govern the courts’ presence on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, cautioned the panel, whose remarks came amid a colorful discussion of positive and negative examples of judicial Internet use. Those included court announcements of schedule delays via Twitter, blog posts on the merits of past cases and self-published risque photos of certain members of Congress.

The panel, which included keynote speaker Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, also called attention to the pitfalls of judges who “friend” lawyers and jurors, research litigants on the Web (leading to the media-dubbed phenomena “mistrial by Google”) or even “like” particular establishments on Facebook, which could be deemed as judicial bias toward those entities.

Judge Dixon also cited lawyers’ ability to research potential jurors on the Internet during the voir dire process and specialized jury instructions about the use of electronic communications as two significant ways the Internet has changed his courtroom practices.

One question that was not fully answered by the panel—and exemplifies the breadth of ethical concerns social media use creates—was the extent of the judiciary’s responsibility to monitor the activities of friends and family members who might include a judge’s likeness or appear to represent a jurist’s opinion or affiliation.

The session, titled “‘Friend is Now a Verb: Judicial Ethics and the New Social Media,” was sponsored by the ABA’s Judicial Division.

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