Get Ready for a Rush of Facebooking Activity by Judges in Ohio

[Post by Venkat]

Ohio Supreme Court (Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline): Opinion 2010-7 (Dec. 3, 2010)

I posted previously about Florida’s restrictive attitude toward Facebook friending by judges: “Is the Florida Bar Taking Facebook Friendship Too Seriously?” The Ohio Board of Commissioners recently released an (advisory) opinion answering the question of whether “a judge [may] be a ‘friend’ on a social networking site with a lawyer who appears as counsel in a case before the judge.” [Answer: yes.] The opinion is a surprisingly good read. For example, it notes that:

A rose is a rose is a rose. A friend is a friend is a friend? Not necessarily. A social network “friend” may or may not be a friend in the traditional sense of the word.

The Ohio advisory opinion runs through the code of conduct for judges and notes that

[u]pholding these required virtues may be challenging for a social networking judge. Social interaction on a network occurs rapidly and is widely disseminated.

Some specific guidelines:

maintain dignity in comments and photographs;

don’t convey the impression that anyone is in the position to influence you;

don’t make comments about pending matters (privately or publicly);

don’t view a witness’s profile;

don’t give legal advice to others; and

be aware of the contents of [your] . . . page, be familiar with the social networking site policies and privacy controls, and be prudent in all interactions on a social networking site.

It looks like most of the states that have considered the issue have said jurists can friend (Kentucky, Ohio, New York, South Carolina), with just one state saying no (Florida).

When I wrote the post about Florida’s opinion I thought it was taking the concept of Facebook friendship way too seriously. However, since then it seems like Facebook’s privacy controls have grown more complicated. I do think there’s that issue to consider. In light of this, Ohio’s cautionary notes seem warranted. On the other hand, you have to wonder whether this smacks of Facebook exceptionalism. Do we have to articulate the rules for judges following a lawyer on Twitter? Do we need to reiterate the rules of engagement for judges emailing lawyers? Either way, it’s nice to see Ohio take a practical stance on the issue.

For what it’s worth, the ethics opinion contains reasonably good advice that is probably helpful to lawyers as well (even though lawyers aren’t subject to the same canons as judges).

(h/t ABA Journal: “Judges Can Have Facebook Friends, With ‘Constant Vigil,’ Says Ohio Supreme Court Board“)