Wednesday, March 12, 2014
A Fresno, California judge has disqualified himself from a civil case after the trial's conclusion but before signing the final judgment following his admission that he was Facebook friends with an attorney in the case. The Fresno Bee reports:
The judge who smacked Paul Evert's RV Country with a $4.5 million defamation verdict has disqualified himself from the case after he admitted that he was Facebook friends with one of the lawyers who prevailed in the Fresno County Superior Court civil trial.
Judge Jeffrey Hamilton's decision to give up the case appears to follow state judicial ethics guidelines. It also puts the verdict in question because he had not signed the final judgment, and could give rise to Evert and his employees getting a new trial.
The story suggests that prior to trial commencing, the judge revealed to all parties that he was friends with the plaintiff's attorney. No party lodged an ojection to the judge presiding upon that revelation. However, the judge failed to disclose his Facebook friendship until after he ruled for the plaintiff, who was represented by his Facebook friend, in a non-jury trial. In the defense motion to disqualify, defense counsel claimed that the judge's relationship with plaintiff's counsel was "was closer than had been previously disclosed by Judge Hamilton," and that had the Facebook connection been disclosed, defendant would not have waived a jury trial.
Notably, California Judge's Association Judicial Ethics Opinion No. 66 (2010) relating to judicial use of social networking states:
When a judge learns that an attorney who is a member of that judge’s online social networking community has a case pending before the judge the online interaction with that attorney must cease (i.e. the attorney should be“unfriended”) and the fact this was done should be disclosed ... Regardless of the nature of the social networking page, maintaining online contacts while a case is pending creates appearance issues that cannot be overcome through disclosure of the contacts.
- Judge is Disqualified After Sending Litigant a Facebook Friend Request
- Texas: Facebook "Friendship" Alone Does Not Require Recusal
- Extraneous Remarks Leads to Remand for Re-Sentencing
- Estlinbaum, Social Networking and Judicial Ethics
- Florida: Facebook Friendship Leads to Judicial Disqualification
- Social Networking Judges and Attorneys
- Judges and Facebook