Tuesday, February 4, 2014
A Florida appellate court recently held that a motion to disqualify a judge should be granted where the judge in a divorce proceeding, sent a Facebook friend request to a litigant in the proceeding and the litigant refused the request. The case is Chace v. Loisel, No. 5D13-4449 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., January 24, 2013).
In this case, the judge, during the divorce proceeding, "reached out" to the party by making a Facebook friend request. The party declined the request. That party later claimed the judge retaliated against her by awarding her most of the marital debt. The party filed a motion to disqualify which the trial court denied.
The appellate court wrote:
It seems clear that a judge’s ex parte communication with a party presents a legally sufficient claim for disqualification, particularly in the case where the party’s failure to respond to a Facebook “friend” request creates a reasonable fear of offending the solicitor. 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.
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 2009-20 provides that by designating an attorney as a Facebook friend, a judge, "reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer 'friends' are in a special position to influence the judge." Florida takes a restrictive approach to judicial use of social media so the outcome in this case is not surprising.