Objection! Florida Bans Judges From "Friending" Lawyers on All Social-Networking Sites

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In one of the craziest proclamations I've ever read, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has banned judges from "friending" lawyers on social-networking sites. The reason? It "reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer 'friends' are in a special position to influence the judge."

Ashby Jones, of the The Wall Street Journal's Legal Blog, raises the obvious point: When he first signed up for Facebook, back in the fall of 2007, "friending" someone was akin to confirming a pre-existing friendship—an act that would justify the Committee's opinion. But since then, he writes, "it's taken on a different meaning. I've friended friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, people who claim to know me, people from my past I barely remember, and people who probably requested my 'friendship' completely by mistake or through some sort of elaborate spam ruse that I'm not smart enough to figure out." In other words, modern-day "friending" rarely connotes actual friendship, especially on more professional social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. (Several Committee members shared this belief, but were overruled.)

Additionally, I'm wondering what kind of "influence" the Committee's trying to prevent. I mean, it's one thing if a lawyer who's appearing before a judge is posting objectionable links—trial-related articles, photos, etc.—on his Facebook wall. But would a judge really be swayed by a lawyer's Facebook status updates? Or Foursquare check-ins? Or Last.fm scrobbles? I doubt it.

And who's going to enforce this opinion, anyway? In banning lawyer-judge interaction on "any social-networking site which requires the member of the site to approve the listing of a 'friend' or contact," the Committee has pretty much included all major Web destinations. If its members have hours of free time, they might be able to "police" Facebook and MySpace. But what if the lawyers and judges go rogue and start a posse on Orkut? Or worse—Stache Passions?

Feel free to leave your thoughts—and objections—below.

[Florida Supreme Court via The Wall Street Journal]

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  • Bruce Campbell

    Glad to see that you are staying on top of some of the crucial ethics issues facing judges and lawyers in our nation.

    Unlike their Florida counterparts <http: 12="" 2009="" cllegal.com="" online-social-networking-for-judges.html="">, New York State judges are free to participate in online social networking with no greater restriction than is already placed upon them by virtue of their office. <http: 12="" 2009="" cllegal.com="" online-networking-for-judges-is-not-on.html="">

    Bruce A. Campbell, Esq.

  • John Bergquist

    I have expected similar actions to occur. A doctor friend of mine is struggling with having his patients as friends on facebook. If judges and lawyers are communicating within their physical community then I see no reason why that should not transfer to the web. The limits they have on what they can discuss should transfer. Each sector of our society will have to wrestle with the new paradigm. I believe that letting this settle outside the confines of a committee is much more productive though. I trust the judges and lawyers to behave themselves. I am sure some will violate the law but that happens regardless of the mode of communication.