Broward Judges Rush To “Defriend” Lawyers

BY BUDDY NEVINS

Some of the folks in the black robe can’t be your Facebook friend anymore…if you are a lawyer.

A ruling December 15 by the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee of the Florida Supreme Court stated that judges can’t “friend lawyers on Facebook.

So Broward judges are rushing to “defriend  members of the Bar.

Here is an e-mail one lawyer got from a local well-known county court judge:

“Subject: JEAC Opinion

Hi (name removed)

Happy holidays!

Last month, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee concluded that a judge cannot be a Facebook “friend” to an attorney who “may” appear before me because 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.”  Because of this new opinion, I will regretfully have
to “defriend” you.

Please don’t take it personally!

Hundreds of these e-mails from various judges have been zipping around legal circles.

The thinking behind the ruling is that judges must decide which lawyers can become their Facebook friends. 

Thus, the process violates Canon 2B, which states:  “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”  

No decision yet on whether the committee will curb Facebook campaign pages. 

But the ruling indicated the committee was already thinking about it:

“The question then remains whether a campaign committee may establish a social networking page which allows lawyers who may practice before the judge to designate themselves as “fans” or supporters of the judge’s candidacy.”

Here is the ruling.

 



10 Responses to “Broward Judges Rush To “Defriend” Lawyers”

  1. Nate Klitsberg says:

    Buddy –

    This topic has been going around in candidate circles as well. Because of questions about whether this opinion would apply to judicial candidates (as Canon 2(B) is one that the Florida Supreme Court has previously stated does not apply to judicial candidates), on December 11, 2009, I submitted a formal request for an opinion from the JEAC on this issue. I have already been notified that an opinion will hopefully be issued within 45 days, and I will be happy to circulate it if I receive an answer prior to formal publication of the opinion. I am sure that all candidates with Facebook or other social networking pages will be waiting to hear an answer to this question.

    Please note however that the “Candidate Fan Page” question was specifically answered in the JEAC Opinion you linked. The Committee found that a judge’s campaign may have a social networking page which allows lawyers to designate themselves “Fans” or supporters provided the sites “cannot accept or reject the lawyer’s listing of himself or herself on the site” as a fan. While I am not familiar with each social networking site, Facebook campaign pages allow anyone to sign up as a “supporter” so it would seem that there is no ethical issue with having such a page.

    Best regards to you and the family for the holidays and Happy New Year!

    Nate

    FROM BUDDY: Send it to Browardbeat.com when you receive it!

  2. oh lord says:

    soon you can’t wave at your neighbor, silly sheet

  3. S Only says:

    isn’t it “unfriend”?

    FROM BUDDY: Actually, there is a debate on the Internet over whether to use “unfriend” or “defriend” when removing someone from Facebook.

    One story about it can be found here.

  4. Lawyer says:

    Buddy, that letter you quote sure reads like judge Paulie B.

  5. Chaz Stevens says:

    I’ve unfriended myself on Facebook. I like how it’s worked out so far.

  6. Ridiculous says:

    My opinion: If you are an attorney and you have a Judge as a friend or vice-versa, unless there is an appearance of impropriety or a quid pro quo happening, then WTF?

    Facebook is NOT the Bar and should not be subject to JEAC opinions.

    Attorneys and judges are people and have lives outside of the courts. (allegedly)

    I would further opine that 1st amendment rights to free speech outweigh all else unless the above references to impropriety or QPQ occur.

    Bad enough Judges cannot speak of their opinions and we basically have to elect someone without typically important information about a judicial candidate.

    The Judicial election process has already degenerated into either a beauty contest or a who knows who contest.

    Now no Facebook even?

    Ridiculous!

  7. Lawyer says:

    Check out Jay Hurley’s Facebook “friends”! It’s a who’s who of Broward Attorneys. I guess Judge Hurley doesn’t believe the Facebook opinion is binding on him or Judge Hurley is clueless of the opinion. Wow!!!

  8. Ethics 101 says:

    The above post sounds like Judge Lazarus because it is so wordy. Thank God Lazarus is retiring. He is so connected to BSO and Rothstein. Lamberti selected his dear friend Joel Lazarus to swear him in as Sheriff. Lazarus is a prosecutor in robes that is known for perpetuating problems at the courthouse. Good riddance Joel. You are and always have been an unethical loser.

  9. Just practicing says:

    In re: Lawyer (comment above 12/31)
    I controlled myself and did not go look at Judge Hurley’s facebook page, because the JEAC’s opinion is ADVISORY!!!
    Perhaps your law school did not explain the advisory opinion thing, but its important. Do some research…

  10. @Just Practicing says:

    Very true “just practicing” — the JEAC opinion is just advisory in nature. Then again, a judge who follows a JEAC opinion is given the presumption of acting in good faith should there be a JQC complaint filed against that judge, and the opposite is also true.

    Since JEAC advisory opinions do not become “binding” at any point, and they only are referenced if/when someone makes a JQC complaint against the judge for an alleged violation — shouldn’t judges be erring on the side of caution and following this opinion (however misguided and out of date its reasoning is)?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if many of our judges got JQC complaints for their facebook pages in the coming months to see if the Supreme Court will find the same result as the JEAC did. Given the split on the JEAC on this issue (probably based on the age/technological savviness of those hearing the matter), I wouldn’t be surprised if the old fuddy-duddies on the Fla. S. Ct. came to the same conclusion.

    Just do a facebook search for many members of the Broward Judiciary –you’ll see that almost all of them have a rogue’s gallery of lawyers as friends who not only MAY appear in front of them, but ACTUALLY appear in front of them regularly.

    Tsk tsk tsk.

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