You don't make friends with... Judges.

A recent case in Florida has shown the dangers of who you make friends with on Facebook, or at least who you ask to be your friend.

In a dissolution of marriage case, the wife successfully sought to disqualify the trial judge. All because the trial judge sent through a friend request on Facebook.

The Law Blog from The Wall Street Journal summarises the case quite well. Essentially, the trial judge sent through a friend request to the wife in the case. Upon advice of counsel, she decided not to respond to the request. The trial judge then entered a judgment that appeared to weigh heavily in the favour of the husband. The wife then sought to disqualify the trial judge based on allegations that the trial judge retaliated against her for not accepting the friend request.

When considering the application to disqualify the trial judge, Justice Cohen said:

The “friend” request placed the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case or risk offending the judge by not accepting the “friend” request.

The Court disqualified the trial judge as they found the facts to be of a kind "that would create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial".

While I'm sure for the majority of interactions with judges on social media, it would be perfectly reasonable to be "friends". But when a judge requests that a party to an active case that they are presiding over become "friends" - well, that seems perfectly understandable that the judge was disqualified.

He continued,  discussing the nature of Facebook "friends":

The word “friend” on Facebook is a term of art. A number of words or phrases could more aptly describe the concept, including acquaintance and, sometimes, virtual stranger. A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.

ALLA(WA) Committee Member - Alice Hewitt. 
Librarian, Reference and Information Services, Murdoch University.


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