May a judge accept LinkedIn connection requests from lawyers who appear in the judge’s court? No, according to a recent Massachusetts judicial ethics opinion. See Ma. Court System, CJE Op. No. 2016-08 (Sep. 6, 2016).
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site that allows users to post profiles, connect with other users, and share updates, achievements, and recommendations. While many lawyers use the site, this opinion limits a judge’s ability to do so:
[A] judge who uses LinkedIn may not be connected with any attorney who is reasonably likely to appear before that judge. This conclusion requires a judge to reject requests to connect with and to disconnect from lawyers who are reasonably likely to appear before the judge.
“Connecting” with lawyers, the opinion states, would raise questions as to the “independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Granted, a judge must avoid using social media in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to question the judge’s impartiality. However, in my view, simply “connecting” with a lawyer on LinkedIn, or “friending” a lawyer on Facebook does not raise “reasonable” concerns of partiality. Many users of social media have never met many of their so-called “friends.” Indeed, a Facebook friend is not necessarily a friend. For that reason, this opinion is too restrictive.