Last year, I blogged on the Florida case in which a lower level court held that, standing alone, a judge’s Facebook friendship with a lawyer is not sufficient to disqualify the judge from a matter in which the lawyer appears.
This makes sense to me. As with almost everything tech-related, I try to use analogies to non-tech stuff. For example, if you learned that a lawyer who regularly appeared before a judge belonged to the same health club, or went to the same church, or was in the same law school class as the judge my guess is that you wouldn’t reflexively yell “conflict! disqualify the judge!”
No, you might ask something as simple as, “do they actually know each other? If so, how well? Do they do stuff together?”
In my view, Facebook is no different. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal agrees. The opinion presents a fantastic analysis of what it means, if anything, to be Facebook friends with someone.
The decision directly conflicted with another from a different Florida district. So, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to resolve the issue.
Today, the Court issued its opinion. For those of you who like to cut to the case, here you go:
- “We hold that an allegation that a trial judge is a Facebook ‘friend’ with an
attorney appearing before the judge, standing alone, does not constitute a legally
sufficient basis for disqualification.”
I like the opinion. I like it because it resolves a “tech” issue by analogizing to how we did things pre-tech. To summarize:
- Since well before Facebook and social media, Florida law has recognized “that an allegation of mere friendship between a judge and a litigant or attorney appearing before the judge, standing alone, does not constitute a legally sufficient basis for disqualification.”
- There’s no reason to treat a Facebook friendship any differently than a “traditional” friendships. In fact, it’s likely that Facebook friends are less friendly than traditional friends.
- “In short, the mere fact that a Facebook friendship’ exists provides no
significant information about the nature of any relationship between the Facebook
‘friends.’ Therefore, the mere existence of a Facebook ‘friendship’ between a
judge and an attorney appearing before the judge, without more, does not
reasonably convey to others the impression of an inherently close or intimate
relationship. No reasonably prudent person would fear that she could not receive a
fair and impartial trial based solely on the fact that a judge and an attorney
appearing before the judge are Facebook ‘friends’ with a relationship of an
From there, the Florida Supreme Court observed that its decision is consistent with the majority of states that have addressed the issue.
Finally, remember: just like real-life relationships, a Facebook friendship or other social media connection might create an appearance that provides a basis to inquire further. So maybe it’s best to avoid such connections.
For now, here’s the final paragraph from the Florida opinion:
- “In some circumstances, the relationship between a judge and a litigant,
lawyer, or other person involved in a case will be a basis for disqualification of the
judge. Particular friendship relationships may present such circumstances
requiring disqualification. But our case law clearly establishes that not every
relationship characterized as a friendship provides a basis for disqualification. And
there is no reason that Facebook ‘friendships’—which regularly involve
strangers—should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.”
Regular readers know my response: