Recent ABA Opinion Cautions Judges Regarding Use of Social Media, But Does it Go Far Enough?

By March 6, 2013

By Todd A. Levine
Last week, the ABA issued an opinion judges’ use of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  While the opinion acknowledges judges can and should use social networking sites, the opinion cautions judges to be sure that their online actions do not suggest they are not impartial.  However the opinion does not necessarily require judges to disclose a social media connection, instead cautioning the judiciary to consider whether the connection must be disclosed.

The opinion does little to clarify judges’ obligations with respect to social media.  The amorphous “rules” set forth in the ABA opinion essentially ask judges to weigh each situation carefully and use caution when accepting lawyers and other contacts as “friends” or connections.
I believe judges should remain off social media sites during their tenure in order to avoid any appearances of impropriety if a judge is connected online to one lawyer in a case, but not the opposition.  Over time, as people become more familiar with the fact that social media is so widespread that it is becoming akin to the Yellow Pages, perhaps there will be less scrutiny about a judge’s passive online activity.  However, a losing party will always try to argue the judge favored the other side because he is a Facebook friend or she is a Twitter follower.  Why give them ammunition to attack a proper ruling or judgment and why unnecessarily add additional hurdles and expenses to a lawsuit?  Judges are people, but they should maintain their friendships the old-fashioned way.  They don’t need “friends” or “followers” on social media.