Florida’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opined back in 2009 that it was not permissible for a judge to approve a lawyer who may appear before the judge as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. Nearly three years later, another judge asked the committee a related question: What about LinkedIn?
Whether a judge may add lawyers who may appear before the judge as “connections” on the professional networking site, Linked In, or permit such lawyers to add the judge as their “connection” on that site?
The Inquiring Judge argued that there should be a distinction between Facebook, “where family and other personal relationships are fostered,” and LinkedIn, which the judge said was “for the purpose of conducting professional networking.” The Inquiring Judge submitted that unlike Facebook, “a judge’s connection on LinkedIn with lawyers who may appear before the judge does not reasonably convey the impression to the public that a personal relationship of any kind necessarily exists between them.”
The committee disagreed, stating that Florida Judicial Canon 2B prohibits a judge from conveying or permitting others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. The committee stated that, as it had found with Facebook in 2009, LinkedIn’s processes for selecting “connections,” and the fact that a judge’s list of connections are visible to others who the judge has approved, convey that impression and therefore violate Canon 2B.
The committee also observed that in California, a judge may accept a lawyer as a Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection if that lawyer “may” appear before the judge, but not if the lawyer actually has a case pending before the judge. The committee deemed that approach to be too difficult to administer, as it “contemplates a judge constantly approving, deleting, and reapproving lawyers as ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ as their cases are assigned to, and thereafter concluded or removed from, a judge.”