Saturday, December 12, 2009

Are You A Judge's "Friend?" Keep It Off Facebook

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued this opinion regarding judges on Facebook.

The opinion: Judges may not add lawyers who may appear before the judge as "friends" on a social networking site, and permit such lawyers to add the judge as their "friend."


The committee started with this premise: According to Facebook, "your friends on Facebook are the same friends, acquaintances and family members that you communicate with in the real world."

All together now, everyone who's on Facebook - that's a load of crap.

My friends on Facebook are mostly my "Facebook friends." Other than my high school friends and others I know personally, most I've never met. They are fellow lawyers and other interesting, or not, folks.

Every so often those of us on Facebook are standing in line at Starbucks, or attending some cocktail party and someone will say "hey, we're Facebook friends."

But when it comes to judges, in Florida, the committee has determined that "friend" is real, and real unethical: " identify lawyers who may appear in front of the judge as “friends” on the judge's page and to permit those lawyers to identify the judge as a “friend” on their pages.....would violate Canon 2B."

Canon 2B 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."

The committee recognized that "....judges cannot isolate themselves entirely from the real world and cannot be expected to avoid all friendships outside of their judicial responsibilities....," but "....believes that listing lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a judge's social networking page reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer “friends” are in a special position to influence the judge."

The committee's ruling is sound, but useless. The word "friend" is at the core of the ruling. I wonder, if the term used on Facebook was "person I know," would the committee have an issue?

Wouldn't you as a lawyer want to know that the lawyer is "friends" with the judge? Wouldn't you rather see the connection on Facebook and be able to ask the relevant questions? "Are you real friends, or just Facebook friends?"

Perhaps it's better we don't see the "friendship" on-line. Let's keep it on the golf courses, restaurants, vacation spots and poker games.

That way, no one will know.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit