Complaint Alleging Improper Facebook “Friend” Request Allowed to Proceed

add-as-friendThe New Jersey Supreme Court refused to dismiss a grievance against John J. Robertelli for allegedly improper conduct associated with a Facebook “friend” request.  In order to obtain information about a plaintiff in a personal-injury matter, Robertelli allegedly directed a paralegal employed by his firm to search the internet:

Among other sources, [the paralegal] accessed [the plaintiff’s] Facebook page. Initially, the page was open to the public. At a later point, the privacy settings on the account were changed to limit access to Facebook users who were [the plaintiff’s] “friends.” The [disciplinary counsel] contends that plaintiffs directed the paralegal to access and continue to monitor the non-public pages of [the plaintiff’s] Facebook account. She therefore submitted a “friend request” to [the plaintiff] without revealing that she worked for the law firm representing defendants or that she was investigating him in connection with the lawsuit. [The plaintiff] accepted the friend request, and the paralegal was able to obtain information from the non-public pages of his Facebook account.

See Robertelli v. The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics, No. A-62, Sept. Term 2014, 075584 (Apr. 19, 2016).

Other jurisdictions have advised against improper social media “friending.” A June 2013 ethics advisory opinion from the New Hampshire Bar Association Ethics Committee advises against a lawyer “friending” a nonparty witness if the lawyer “omit[s] identifying information” from the request.  The committee opined that such an omission “may mislead the witness.” See New Hampshire Bar Ass’n Ethics Comm. Op. 2012-13/5 (opinion that such conduct would violate Rules 4.1 and 8.4(c)); see also Philadelphia Ethics Op. 2009-2 (2009); San Diego County Ethics Op. 2011-2 (2011). Similarly, Louisiana Rule 4.2 prohibits a lawyer from making a “friend” request if the request relates to a matter on which the would-be friend is represented by counsel.

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