MIAMI — There are no hard and fast rules related to lawyer-judge relationships, especially when it comes to Facebook, according to attorney Braden Perry of Kennyhertz Perry LLC.
Currently, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal is examining a petition filed by the Herssein Law Group to ban Judge Beatrice Butchko from the bench because she once served with opposing counsel Israel Reyes in the 11th Judicial Circuit. The lawyer and the judge allegedly are still Facebook friends.
Perry told the Florida Record that the case will likely come down to state or federal rules.
It could be “unethical for an attorney to communicate ex parte with a judge during the proceeding unless authorized to do so by law or court order,” Perry said. “There have been many social media advisories and opinions regarding disqualification. I’m not sure what the legal system can do further. It comes down to common sense and in line with many of the advisories stating generally that there is no reason to view or treat ‘Facebook friends’ differently [than the same type of relationships offline].”
The same issue, which has been before the Third, Fourth and Fifth District Court of Appeals, has brought different rulings. Braden said much of the discussion over these cases comes from a 2009 Florida Supreme Court ethics opinion in which the court held that a judge and attorney should not be Facebook friends.
Perry specifically noted the rationale established by Domville v. Florida in 2012 that “even if there existed no special influence, the Facebook friendship could create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.”
“This is contrary to many states who urge caution if an attorney and judge are Facebook friends,” he said.
Noting Chace v. Loisel 2014, he said that case is much clearer that the ex parte contact of one of the clients via social media is a violation—and should be.
However, Perry said he does not agree that a mere “friendship” on Facebook amounts to impropriety.
“Practically, lawyers and judges are going to intermingle on social media, be it Facebook, LinkedIn or another platform," he said. "It’s inevitable in the legal industry and there should be nothing improper with it if done correctly. I’m not sure additional rules are necessary."
The laws already in place have been adequate, Perry said.
“The same rules apply (or should apply) to social media and social contact outside of social media," he said. "Don’t do anything that another could view as improper."