Florida Ethics Committee Concerned About Judges on Social Media

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On July 30, 2013, the Florida Judicial Ethics Committee issued an opinion stating that a judge running for re-election may create a Twitter account for campaign purposes, but warned of potential pitfalls surrounding social media.

The opinion resulted from an inquiry submitted by an anonymous judge who plans to use a Twitter account to tweet about judicial philosophy, campaign slogans, and the candidate’s background. While the opinion is permissive, it also explains that many of Twitter’s features “could prove problematic” as a judge’s campaign tool:

  • Blocking specific followers;
  • Re-tweeting and marking tweets as favorites;
  • Creating lists of users and subscribing to lists created by other users;
  • And direct messaging that could result in ex parte communications.

To avoid these problematic aspects of Twitter, the Committee suggests that the “most sensible way” to use a Twitter account would be for the judge’s campaign manager to create and maintain the account.

The Committee’s concerns reinforce a 2009 opinion regarding the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. In that opinion, the Committee stated that judges may post comments and other material on their social networking sites, but that judges are prohibited from becoming “friends” with lawyers who may appear before them.

As discussed in a previous post on this blog, opinions such as these represent the more restrictive views of social media. Earlier this year, the American Bar Association issued an opinion giving its stamp of approval to these kinds of online relationships.