In one of my previous blogs, I addressed the topic of Social Networking sites and the professional responsibilities involved with utilizing one of the many vastly popular websites. Recently this topic has reemerged in the spotlight, based on the actions of a North Carolina judge and defense attorney.
The case began as a child custody matter. During a meeting with counsel in chambers, the judge brought up the topic of Facebook, a popular social media website. Counsel for the plaintiff who did not have a page is reported as being unfamiliar with it. Counsel for the defendant did. The problem began when the judge and defense attorney became Facebook “friends” and by doing so, they were able to read and create posts on each others pages.
The defense attorney posted a question looking for suggestions on how to prove something in a case he was working on, yes, the same case that was before the judge. The attorney also posted a comment that was highly flattering to the judge. The judge posted a comment on his page about the case, indicating that he has two good parents to choose from.
The problem is that the attorney and judge were essentially engaging in ex-part communications by discussing the case outside of the presence of counsel for the plaintiff, which is strongly discouraged by the ethical rules. However, the judge’s problems didn’t stop there. He went on to search the internet and locate the plaintiff’s website displaying her photography and poems. While he was issuing his decision in court, the judge quoted from one of the plaintiff’s poems in his own decision, thereby revealing the fact that he had conducted his own outside research about the parties which is also strongly discouraged by the ethical rules.
The moral here is if an attorney or judge is going to make the choice to communicate with friends and family via a social networking website, make sure the boundaries of ethical obligations regarding such communications are clear and stay as far away from them as possible.