On August 23, 2017, a Florida appellate court ruled that a district judge may preside over a civil action even though she is Facebook friends with a lawyer appearing before her. See Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A. v. United Services Automobile Ass’n, No. 3D17-1421 (Fl. Ct. App. 3d Dist. Aug. 23, 2017).
Noting that that Facebook contacts often are not equivalent to real-life friends, the court found that no “reasonably prudent person would fear that he or she could not get a fair and impartial trial because the judge is a Facebook friend with a lawyer who represents a potential witness and party to the lawsuit.” On the contrary, “[a]n assumption that all Facebook ‘friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.” The court noted the following three reasons for its holding:
- Some people have thousands of Facebook friends, which reflects how distant many Facebook relationships truly are.
- Facebook members often don’t even know who their friends are.
- Friendships formed by Facebook’s “data mining and networking algorithms” is a product of an “astounding development in applied mathematics.” But while these algorithms are powerful tools “to build personal and professional networks,” they have “nothing to do with close or intimate friendships of the sort that would require recusal.” Id. at 8-9.
In short, “friends” aren’t always friends. A well-reasoned opinion.