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Judges + Social Media = Conflict of Interest?

Updated: May 17, 2016 4:44 AM

When I was first learning about the three branches of the United States government as a wee lad, I loved learning most about the judicial branch. Sure, the legislative and executive branches politick their way to victories, both big and small.

I’m not saying that judges and judicial candidates don’t engage in such a way at all. However, it was nice to know that judges, for all intents and purposes, played by the rules.

Is that the same in today’s world? It’s hard to say. Social media is prevalent because it’s often brought into our courtrooms and used as some form of evidence to determine motive or how a person acts.

It brings forth an interesting conundrum: how involved, if at all, are judges allowed to engage on social media? There’s not really a cut-and-dry answer:

It’s a thorny issue because there are so many pitfalls members of the legal profession must avoid to keep in line with ethical mandates. If a judge comments on a lawyer’s Facebook post, is that an ex parte communication? If a lawyer brags on Twitter about a courtroom victory, is that advertising?

In essence, does connecting and communicating online create so great a risk of problems IRL — that’s “in real life” for those not up on Internet slang — that it’s not worth engaging at all? (San Diego Union Tribune)

Social media has taken the world by an unprecedented storm. It’s here to say whether we like it or not. Does engaging on social media by judges create some sort of conflict of interest. It could certainly seem that way, but it’s tough to tell.

We always try to teach our children the Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated. We’re also taught that we should respect judges for the way they follow the letter of the law. Where do we draw the line though?

When the Ice Bucket Challenge emerged in 2014 to raise money for ALS research and awareness, judges did participate in such a campaign. Does this cloud their judgment when it comes to being involved in pharmaceutical law, or cases involving cancer research?

I could counter that with another question: what do you think happens when prosecutors and defense attorneys are going through the process of jury selection?

They gather together a number of people and ask questions that could potentially them from serving on a jury. They want to determine whether you can keep an impartial perspective and make decisions solely based on the evidence presented in the case.

It’s not necessarily an equivalence that can be drawn for judges. It would be difficult to determine whether a judge has a conflict of interest.

Sure, if one judge commented on a law firm’s Twitter, Instagram or Facebook page and said something to the incompetence or expensive nature of that law firm, I could understand if associated attorneys would want to refrain from working with said judge in current and future cases.

I guess what I take from this in the end includes a couple things. I’m not trying to be a moderate in this approach. I think it’s important that we try to maintain the impartiality of our judges. That comes with the oath they take when sworn into such an office. I get it.

However, do you really want to be that person that rejects the idea of a judge contributing to a good cause, especially when it involves trying to help save lives? I certainly don’t want to be that guy.

If you’re a judge, and you’re ever in doubt, follow the pearls of wisdom from Herman Edwards, Esquire.

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