Back in March, we commented on how a juror sent a facebook “friend request ” to a witness during a Bronx homicide trial, thereby potentially compromising the verdict. (The verdict was overturned, but for unrelated reasons.) http://www.wcmlaw.com/blog/Default.aspx?g=posts&t=539. Not surprisingly, a recent study shows that judges are now getting in on the action, regularly accessing facebook and other social networking sites.
According to a survey recently conducted by the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, most judges who use such sites do so only for personal reasons (i.e., family pictures, etc…) , as opposed to professional ones. In addition, the survey found that judges are being “mindful of the canons” involved is such sites, such as friend requests from attorneys and even witnesses or jurors. Along those lines, several state judicial ethical committees prohibit judges from “friending” on Facebook the lawyers who appear before them.
Given the technological age in which we live, judges will need to at least gain a working understanding of these sites in order to rule effectively. That said, being “mindful of the canons” is a sound practice, especially given the unregulated nature of these sites. Social networking is not without risks, as even a seemingly innocent “friend request” can generate the appearance of impropriety. This rationale definitely applies to some professions (educators come to mind) more than others.
Thanks to Brian Gibbons for his contribution to this post.