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New York Law School

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Judicial Campaigns, Facebook and the Appearance of Impropriety

A committee supporting a trial judge's re-election creates a Facebook page supporting the campaign.  That page allows the judge's supporters and others in the community to post comments on the page, including comments on pending cases.  Attorneys in one such case move to disqualify or recuse that judge because comments posted on the campaign's page by others -- not the judge and not the parties or their attorneys -- about the pending case "gives the appearance of impropriety and a lack of impartiality."  What is the result?

Earlier this month, a three-justice panel from the New Mexico Supreme Court denied a motion to disqualify a judge under such circumstances in a civil case.  A New Mexico company, Valley Meat Co., filed the motion to disqualify after the judge granted the Attorney General's application for temporary restraining order preventing Valley Meat from opening a horse slaughterhouse facility near Roswell.  According to the reports, the Attorney General sought to block the slaughterhouse from opening because of "food and water safety concerns and unfair business practices."  Valley Meat sought to disqualify the judge because of comments posted by horse slaughter opponents on a the judge's election campaign Facebook page.

Writing about the case in February, Scott Sandlin of the Albuquerque Journal News examined some implications associated with increased social media use by judges  and also provided greated back story to this case and Valley Meat's motion to disqualify.  The panel's order itself does not appear to be available online at this time.

Several states and the American Bar Association have pubished opinions relating to social networking by judges.  Little attention has been paid in these opinions to when, if at all, judicial campaign activity intersects with judical ethics restrictions on social media use.  As judicial elections utilize social media in greater numbers, expect to see more cases like this New Mexico case arise.

See Also:

Craig Estlinbaum

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