Florida Judges Can't Facebook Friend Lawyers: That's The Law!
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has just banned all judges in the state from clicking "Confirm" on Friend Requests from lawyers, and the reason why goes a little something like this "It reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer 'friends' are in a special position to influence the judge." We suppose we can kind of understand this. Those in court relying on those lawyers and judges to determine the outcome of huge, pivotal moments in their lives wouldn't want lawyers and judgings being all buddy-buddy, but here's the thing. If a lawyer and a judge were friends before (via school or some other means), having that relationship made public on Facebook won't change the fact that the relationship is real.
Regardless of the status on some social networking site, a lawyer and a judge that are friends are still friends. In other words, Facebook won't introduce bias into a ruling; if two people know each other, there's a real possibility for bias with or without a Facebook confirmation. We can definitely see this spreading into other areas of government and the like. It's just too easy for plaintiffs and the like to complain that a ruling wasn't fair if they can easily see that a lawyer and a judge (or a committee member and a lobbyist, for example) are friends. It's like filling out those legal forms promising not to sue should something go awry on your thrill ride; one bad apple (or potential bad apple) ruins the fun for everyone. Here's a quote from the decision:
The Committee believes that listing lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a judge’s social networking page reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer “friends” are in a special position to influence the judge. This is not to say, of course, that simply because a lawyer is listed as a “friend” on a social networking site or because a lawyer is a friend of the judge, as the term friend is used in its traditional sense, means that this lawyer is, in fact, in a special position to influence the judge. The issue, however, is not whether the lawyer actually is in a position to influence the judge, but instead whether the proposed conduct, the identification of the lawyer as a “friend” on the social networking site, conveys the impression that the lawyer is in a position to influence the judge. The Committee concludes that such identification in a public forum of a lawyer who may appear before the judge does convey this impression and therefore is not permitted.