They say that “a good lawyer knows the law and a great lawyer knows the judge.” While there is some truth to that adage, a recent Florida case suggests that it should now say that “a great lawyer knows the judge, but doesn’t ‘friend’ him”–at least not in Florida.
Why not? Or, as the band War so memorably sang, “why can’t we be friends?”
Though not too melodic, the answer is: because public, social media “friendships” between a judge and lawyer can wrongly suggest that there is an extra-legal personal relationship which could affect a judge’s impartiality.
The case at issue involved a Florida trial judge who was found to be Facebook “friends” with the prosecutor in a criminal case. Therefore, the criminal defendant moved to disqualify the trial judge, who saw no problem and denied the motion to disqualify himself from the case. The Florida District Court of Appeal disagreed and held that Florida’s ethical rules for judges prohibit judges from publicly friending lawyers on a social media site because of the improprieties suggested by a “friendship.”
For those interested, the appellate court’s full decision can be viewed here: Download Domville v State Opinion. Following is an excerpt explaining the court’s reasoning:
We find an opinion of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee to be instructive. See Fla. JEAC Op. 2009–20 (Nov. 17, 2009). There, the Committee concluded that the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct precludes a judge from both adding lawyers who appear before the judge as “friends” on a social networking site and allowing such lawyers to add the judge as their “friend.” The Committee determined that a judge's listing of a lawyer as a “friend” on the judge's social networking page-“[t]o the extent that such identification is available for any other person to view”-would violate Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2B (“A judge shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”).
. . . .
The issue, however, is not whether the lawyer actually is in a position to influence the judge, but instead whether the proposed conduct, the identification of the lawyer as a “friend” on the social networking site, conveys the impression that the lawyer is in a position to influence the judge. The Committee concludes that such identification in a public forum of a lawyer who may appear before the judge does convey this impression and therefore is not permitted.