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Judges Can't "Friend" Lawyers in Florida 138

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lawyers-don't-have-friends-anyway dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has found in a recent opinion that judges and lawyers can no longer be Facebook friends. The committee says that when judges 'friend' lawyers who may appear before them, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it 'reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer "friends" are in a special position to influence the judge.' Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at New York University, says the Florida rule goes too far. 'In my view, they are being hypersensitive because in the case of a truly close friendship between a judge and a lawyer involved in a case, the other side can simply seek to disqualify the judge. Judges do not "drop out of society when they become judges," Gillers says. "The people who were their friends before they went on the bench remained their friends, and many of them were lawyers." Still, legal sycophants can take heart: lawyers can declare themselves Facebook "fans" of judges, the committee says, "as long as the judge or committee controlling the site cannot accept or reject the lawyer's listing of himself or herself on the site."'"
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Judges Can't "Friend" Lawyers in Florida

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  • The Book (Score:5, Funny)

    by MikeMacK (788889) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:01PM (#30406836)
    Gives new meaning to the term "throwing the book" at you...
  • Really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Khris (1010709) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:04PM (#30406906)
    When are we going to realize that the further we push issues like this, the more damage we're doing to our society. Pretty soon it's going to be illegal to look at someone if they're having a bad hair day assuming it's Thursday of the 5th month with a full moon happening within 3 days.
    • Unless it happens during a leap year.

    • by Tolkien (664315)
      You forgot the part about Carol's mother having an appointment at the hair dresser. :)
    • I absolutely think this was the right decision. Judges are in a special place where they need to avoid the appearance of bias at all costs. If friending someone on facebook gets a ruling overturned on appeal it's probably better than the friending not take place.
      • Yes, but there is nothing to stop the judge having a drink the a lawyer every evening. It does not stop judges and lawyers being friends, it only prevents public knowledge of the friendship.

  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:05PM (#30406912) Journal

    Is lonely because no one wants to friend him in Facebook.

  • Another Example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CranberryKing (776846) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:05PM (#30406918)
    of how social networks are only going to bite you in the ass eventually.
  • Fore! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mswhippingboy (754599) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:08PM (#30406958)
    Of course, there's no problem if they all play golf together at their country club. It's the "appearance" of conflict of interest thats the problem here, not the "actual" conflict of interest that goes on all the time.
    • Re:Fore! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:15PM (#30407056)

      Of course, there's no problem if they all play golf together at their country club. It's the "appearance" of conflict of interest thats the problem here, not the "actual" conflict of interest that goes on all the time.

      There you go.

      And I for one would rather have any relationship between a judge and a lawyer be public knowledge.

      It would be worse if their friendship were secret.

    • by dissy (172727)

      Of course, there's no problem if they all play golf together at their country club. It's the "appearance" of conflict of interest thats the problem here, not the "actual" conflict of interest that goes on all the time.

      True that. It is always about appearances in the public eye.

      The judges and lawyers should just all join the same pro-copyright lobbing group, then everything will be peachy!

    • That was my thought, the ruling is idiotic, but the judge/lawyer relationships are disgusting problems. I've dealt with it personally watching a non local defending lawyer be reamed as the judge and the prosecutor of the medium size town are so obvious it looks like courting. And it had very very nasty costs, that put someone in prison for 3 years. Saw first hand prosecutor request/suggest and get a yes, defender ask something and get serious attitude with the no. Made me think they should have a 4 year dis
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:09PM (#30406978) Journal

    If Hollywood has taught me anything about the Judiciary system, its that the prosecution and the judge are always the best of friends, know each other by first name, and might even have a heart to heart during recess.

    Seriously though, I'm sure it'd be more beneficial if they tried to stop the ACTUAL conflict of interest instead of trying to stop THE APPEARANCE of conflict of interest.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      Fact is, if you're stupid enough to hire a lawyer that isn't friends with the judge, you're going to get screwed in our legal system.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Chirs (87576)

        How exactly do you know which judge you'll get before the trial starts? Or do you hire another lawyer once you find out who the judge is?

        • by Tanktalus (794810)

          How exactly do you know which judge you'll get before the trial starts? Or do you hire another lawyer once you find out who the judge is?

          And how do you know which lawyers are the judge's friends other than by looking on the judge's facebook page?

          • You hire a solicitor who appoints a barrister once the court has been decided. The solicitor is friends with the barristers and knows which are friends with which judges. Note that 'friend' in this context doesn't always mean a real friend: different judges are more open to different styles of argument and picking a barrister who will not irritate the judge can be important.
        • by Locke2005 (849178)
          You hire a lawyer who applies for a change of venue to the courtroom of his judge friend. Yes, I beat a traffic ticket on appeal once by doing exactly that -- and the cop issuing the ticket was not happy!
    • Don't hold your breath for the lawyers in the state legislatures to make any laws that will impact them - now there's the REAL conflict of interest.
    • by macragge (413964) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:57PM (#30407514)

      I recently had the privilege of serving as a juror in a DUI trial. I was quite pleased to discover that the Judge appeared unbiased, if not slightly more lenient towards the defense.

      Also, the defense attorney poked so many holes in the prosecutor's argument: that the jury only had to deliberate for about ten minutes. I was absolutely shocked to learn that he was a public defender.

      On top of that, the defendant was a black male from the city while the jury was entirely white suburbanites.

      Going into the trail, I expected that the system was going to screw the defendant, but the Judge showed no bias, the Public Defender was competent, and the Jury presumed the defendant to be innocent. Now I feel like the media is full of shit.

      • Sample size of one (Score:1, Informative)

        by jeko (179919)

        Congratulations. You have seen the system work the way it is supposed to ... once.

        I asked a cop for directions once, and while he was rude to me, he didn't physically assault me, so I believe all these reports of tasers are false.

        Tonight as I look out my window I see neither stars nor moon, so obviously all this talk of "space" is nonsense. After all, I've never been there, so it can't possibly be real.

        Just because you haven't personally seen the train wrecks doesn't mean there haven't been any.

      • Remember that story about the guy facing years in prison over one single undeleted image of child porn? He's pleading guilty on advice of a public defender.

        ---inuxrocks123

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday December 11, 2009 @08:14PM (#30408944) Journal

        Now I feel like the media is full of shit

        You know all those stories about police officers being courteous and helpful that you read? And all those stories about the legal system working as intended? Stories about teachers that didn't molest the children? You don't read these because they are not news. News is when something unusual or unexpected happens. No one wants - or needs - to hear when things work, only when they need fixing. The media is not full of shit (well, with some exceptions), but they document news, not everyday occurrences.

      • One is not a good sample.

      • It's different if the crime is more serious.  Lots of people change, all of a sudden.
    • Seriously though, I'm sure it'd be more beneficial if they tried to stop the ACTUAL conflict of interest instead of trying to stop THE APPEARANCE of conflict of interest.

      If we did that, then you'd probably next be saying we need to take measures to improve the actual economic situation, not just create the appearance of economic improvement. Bah!

    • The problem is, perhaps ironically, that prosecutors and judges often know each other much better than people expect simply because prosecutors come before the same judges on a regular, continuous basis. A city of millions might have seventy or eighty trial court judges. If you, as a prosecutor, spend every day in Court for a decade, or two decades, it's not at all surprising that you'd be familiar with all the judges and know at least a bit about them.

      There's nothing you can do about that unless you'd like

      • by mpe (36238)
        The problem is, perhaps ironically, that prosecutors and judges often know each other much better than people expect simply because prosecutors come before the same judges on a regular, continuous basis.

        Shouldn't the same apply with public defenders too?

        There's nothing you can do about that unless you'd like to ensure judges and prosecutors never serve terms of any reasonable duration.

        How about having "public lawyers" who were "prosecutors" or "defenders" on a random case by case basis?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by grantsellis (537978)
      I'm sorry, but you lost me at, "If Hollywood has taught me anything about the Judiciary system," Because if Hollywood has taught me anything about the judicial system, it's that attorneys in criminal courts are people who are better looking than people you meet in real life, crime scene videos are infinitely zoomable so you can see the killer's microscopic tattoos, that judges like you to give a mini-criminal procedure lecture every time you make an objection, and that juries are actually impressed by gran
  • what???? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OrangeMonkey11 (1553753) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:10PM (#30406988)

    This is just dumb; you're still going to have conflict of interest anyway because these people are most like friends outside of facebook.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by idontgno (624372)

      because these people are most like friends outside of facebook.

      NO!

      NO WAI!

      There's no such thing as friends outside of Facebook! In fact, there's no such thing as PEOPLE outside of Facebook. Those people out there walking around? Facebookers I haven't friended. Yet.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Well, they're most likely not friends because they're on facebook and yet possibly friends in real life. I have people as facebook "friends" which has done nothing except share an elementary school class with me, and I didn't even hang out with them back them. So they friended me - lord knows how, I don't even remember their names so either they got a better memory than me or an old school book, but it'd be somewhat rude to ignore them so ok... I accept but I don't even message them and they don't message m

  • This sounds like a legit rule to me.

    If friends lists are public (and they now are, because FB no longer allows you to hide that), then by friending someone you make a public statement.

    I think public statements should be taken seriously if made by people in official positions.

    • Re:I agree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sthomas (132075) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:20PM (#30407140)

      I with you on it making sense. Also, if a lawyer feels really great about his chance of a victory and posts that he's about to win his case, the judge would see that update. Then if the judge rules in his favor it gives the appearance that the lawyer received foreknowledge of a ruling. If it doesn't go his way, the judge could be argued to have ruled the other way to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

      It's easier to just separate them, because in every court case someone will be unhappy with the outcome and looking for something to blame it on.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Yup.

        Courtrooms are simply arenas where you bleed dollars instead of blood.

        All mankind has ever done since the cave man days is fight fight fight.

    • by maxume (22995)

      As opposed to their private relationships?

      The whole story is pretty inane, but publishing the relationship on Facebook isn't going to lead to any more of a miscarriage of justice than the existence of the relationship.

    • Re:I agree (Score:4, Funny)

      by zippthorne (748122) on Friday December 11, 2009 @06:40PM (#30407972) Journal

      Yeah, it's important that we avoid the appearance of impropriety. Especially if actual impropriety is occurring.

  • by ZDRuX (1010435)
    I'm sorry, I might be a bit behind the times but... does anybody above the age of 16 actually use Facebook?! I'm 27, and Facebook has been around for quite some time now, and I still cannot find what the appeal is.

    If you want to know what someone is doing, why not ask them?! You *DO* have their phone number don't you? They ARE your friend aren't they?..

    At any rate, what could possibly be *fun* for a grown educated adult like a judge on Facebook? Can anyone enlighten me?
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by nomadic (141991)
      I'm guessing you have either few friends or a lot of leisure time. I work for a living, I don't have time to constantly call friends just to stay in touch.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Again (1351325)

      I'm sorry, I might be a bit behind the times but... does anybody above the age of 16 actually use Facebook?! I'm 27, and Facebook has been around for quite some time now, and I still cannot find what the appeal is. If you want to know what someone is doing, why not ask them?! You *DO* have their phone number don't you? They ARE your friend aren't they?.. At any rate, what could possibly be *fun* for a grown educated adult like a judge on Facebook? Can anyone enlighten me?

      Both of my parents have Facebook. My family has become quite scattered geographically and we have a family "thread" where we post quick random updates quite frequently which I find meaningful. I'm not going to call up my whole family to tell them whether or not I liked the latest movie that I watched but I am very likely to post it in this thread. Little, seemingly trivial updates keep me up to date on how my family is doing.

      Also, I would like to add that Facebook provides a nice way to share pictures.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CecilPL (1258010)

      I do call my friends. At least the ones that I hang out with regularly. However, it's just not possible to maintain friendships with the hundreds of people I've met over the years - though I would still like to stay in touch. Traditionally these were the people who you'd get a Christmas card from with a quick update on what they've been up to once a year. Facebook allows you to stay in closer contact without having to devote hours a day to calling everyone you know.

      For example, I was going skiing a couple w

    • It's fun to see what other people are doing occasionally and how they look now if you haven't seen them in a while. I "run into" friends and colleagues from across the country that I haven't seen in forever and have the opportunity to reconnect if I want. It lets me keep track of phone numbers and addresses without keeping a book or having to update it in the very frequent case that they change. Birthdays too! It's very low maintenance and unlike Myspace the form is standardized so I don't end up constantly
  • Cue Florida judges friending every lawyer in the state...
  • Do we stop judges from hooking up with their lawyer friends in public or at the bar, do we spend tax payer money to determine how this can affect us, and how we should proceed....then the same is said for this. Why waste tax payers money on this...
    if the judge hooks up with a lawyer thereby compromising his integrity, the opposition would have to prove of this, by having them followed and later give proof of the meetings. This is a way of them to try and deter this from happening virtually, but for them to

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Do we stop judges from hooking up with their lawyer friends in public? Given what the phrase hooking up [urbandictionary.com] means in the current vernacular, I would say yes, we definitely do stop judges from hooking up with their lawyer friends in public!
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:26PM (#30407206)

    if a lawyer and judge are facebook friends then they are automatically unable to work together.

    Right now you ban the record of the friendship so the best of buds can work the same case.

  • It seems fairly sensible to me that a judge shouldn't hear a case where one side is represented by a close friend, and should disqualify himself immediately. I'm sure there are plenty of judges. If they're friends on facebook this policy should still apply.
    • by maliqua (1316471)
      The issue is not a legal one, a judge can be disqualified on those grounds already.. What they are saying is that they simply cannot be friends, the provisions to remove the judge is already there in the event they are friends be it on facebook or otherwise
  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:38PM (#30407332)

    Whether or not they declare it in Facebook, judges and lawyers do "friend" in real life. You have to wonder how often a judge gives a lawyer a break because of this. What the Facebooking of friends does is lift the veil off this and make bias easier to spot. I would say it's a good thing, and what I'd really like to see is computers used for a deeper statistical analysis of courtroom decisions by judges with certain lawyers.

    I'm sure the legal profession would hate the very idea of this, but these days judges seemed vastly disconnected from society. Every time I hear a judge screech "*My* court" or make a dumb ass decision it's apparent they've forgotten they're nothing more than pubic servants, albeit overpaid and wearing silly black capes and/or pompous wigs. This is theater only the very rich can afford to participate in. The whole legal system needs to be tossed out on it's ass and reinvented from scratch.

    • I'm sure the legal profession would hate the very idea of this, but these days judges seemed vastly disconnected from society.

      I'm not so sure I agree with that. There are plenty of pompous judges, but there are plenty of more realistic ones. I have to admit I've been in front of traffic court judges for speeding tickets and not a one has acted like a jerk to me. They all spoke with that "dude you broke the law, can you slow down please?" tone which was entirely deserved. I also hear of judges who are wo

      • Thanks for a reasoned response. Now, back at ya:

        > As for dumbass decisions, I can only say I've heard of a number of decisions at the national level, even at the supreme court, I strongly disagree with, but only because either the law wasn't clear and the case was incredibly difficult, or the case was politically motivated.

        Like the Bush Florida thing? Hardly the court's proudest moment, but I was speaking from the Australian perspective.

        If you would like an example of how far above everyone else these po

    • by Kirijini (214824)

      Judges are underpaid and overworked. They have massive dockets, and are required to write out the reasons for their major decisions. They get one or two assistants (clerks). They have to sit in court and deal with all the formal shit (jury selection, jury instructions, oral arguments, etc. etc.) while they ought to be busting their ass researching the law and writing decisions.

      Judges aren't paid enough. The more they're paid, the more smart lawyers who want to do good (as opposed to slowly crushing thei

  • by SomeJoel (1061138) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:45PM (#30407394)
    I fail to see a conflict of interest if the defense lawyer and the prosecutor are both "friends" of the judge.
    Unless of course you start weighing how much each friend means to the judge, relatively speaking.
    But that path leads to madness.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I see a huge conflict of interest. If they are both "Friends" of the judge whats to say they all aren't "Friends".

      Prosecution: "Hey I'm kind of on a hot streak right now and I could be moving up if I get a good record this year"

      Defense: "Alright, I'll let you have it, but he's really innocent and didn't do alot of harm"

      Judge: "Okay, minimal sentence it is!"

  • This is a case of people interpreting the term "Friend" as used on Facebook too literally. I have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook. I don't have hundreds of real friends. What I have is hundreds of people whom I have met, perhaps quite briefly, through work, socialization, hobbies and happenstance.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      I am starting to think that they are acting to protect the legal profession; if the lawyers and judges are publicly posting their relationship, later on someone can cry foul about it, if they don't publish the notice, there is less to cry foul about it.

  • by thickdiick (1663057) on Friday December 11, 2009 @06:10PM (#30407644) Journal
    They really are disconnected from society. Same with the police. If you've ever ready about or spoken to someone in a police academy, you will know that they encourage recruits to only hang out with other law enforcement officers, to only play in their sports leagues, et cetera; it indoctrinates a "us" vs "the public" mentality that follows the officer for the rest of their life. I don't know if that translates to the situation of the judges, but one can presume that an individual given such immense power, a sizeable paycheque, and so little accountability as a judge soon enough develops little connection to "everyone else."
    • by Renraku (518261)

      Most judges I've dealt with or heard of seem to be disconnected. In no way shape or form would I ever represent myself in court. When they say maximum fine, they don't mean maximum fine. A judge will levy a HIGHER fine on you for DARING to represent yourself. It's not uncommon to see people lose their licenses for YEARS from a DUI that was completely unfounded and nearly without evidence, because they represented themselves and the judge was already pissed off at them.

  • This reminds me of the record industry's attempts to past legislation to kick pirates off the internet without explaining how it will increase sales.

    If there is some relationship between a lawyer and a judge, how does it help anyone to hide it? Hiding it doesn't make the relationship go away.

  • by ascari (1400977)
    Use MySpace!
  • If a judge and a lawyer that could appear before that judge are indeed friends, instead of being prohibited from disclosing that fact on Facebook, they should, instead, be mandated to disclose it. Why keep the friendship hidden? Hiding it works against proper ethics. I suspect the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee just doesn't understand what the internet really means ... which is about information and exposing the truth. So now someone is going to need to create a new web site to detail all th

    • This was my first thought too. Unfriending them on FB won't eliminate the conflict of interest, it will simply make it harder for an opposing lawyer to discover it.

    • I suspect the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee just doesn't understand what the internet really means ... which is about information and exposing the truth.

      Maybe they know exactly what it means - that most judges would need to recuse themselves in most cases.

  • Is it just me or is Facebook the corniest thing on the net? If I had some friends, perhaps I'd feel differently.
  • It's interesting commentary to me on social networking - this whole dust up appears to be from the use of the name "friend" to signify a virtual relationship. I wonder if this issue would have come up if the name were changed to something neutral like "node" or "connection". Using a name like that would at least avoid the superficial appearance of impropriety.
  • Corruption and arrests of judges in Florida as well as mayors, school boards and other public positions are unusually frequent.
    In order to restore some sort of order Florida has every reason to be overly strict in requirements for judges.
    I have lived in Florida for 54 years and this state needs federal intervention. Having a Bush for governor didn't help and now we have an

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