Is it Unethical for a Judge to “Friend” a Lawyer on Facebook?

facebook-iconA January 2014 opinion from a Florida court suggests that there’s nothing wrong with it. See Chance v. Loisel, No. 5D13-4449 (Fla. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2014). In 2012, another Florida court noted that a judge’s social networking “friendship” with a lawyer appearing before the judge created a “well-founded fear” of unfairness. See Domville v. State, 103 So. 3d 184 (Fla. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 2012). Two years later, the Chance court was skeptical:

We have serious reservations about the court’s rationale in Domville. The word “friend” on Facebook is a term of art. A number of words or phrases could more aptly describe the concept, including acquaintance and, sometimes, virtual stranger. A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship. Other than the public nature of the internet, there is no difference between a Facebook “friend” and any other friendship a judge might have. Domville’s logic would require disqualification in cases involving an acquaintance of a judge. Particularly in smaller counties, where everyone in the legal community knows each other, this requirement is unworkable and unnecessary. Requiring disqualification in such cases does not reflect the true nature of a Facebook friendship and casts a large net in an effort to catch a minnow.

“Friends” aren’t always friends. A well-reasoned second opinion.