The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

The Third ABA Judicial Ethics Opinion in Three Decades

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Thursday, February, 21, 2013

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has just issued a new formal opinion on a timely judicial ethics topic.  The Ethics Committee has not addressed judicial ethics in its formal opinions for over four years (indeed, in the last thirty years, it has done so only three times; for the previous opinions, see here).  The next question almost automatically becomes — to what issue does the Model Code owe this attention?

Answer: Judges and Social Media.  For example, you may recall the controversial Florida judicial ethics opinion stating that judges cannot “friend” (on Facebook) lawyers who may appear before them; you may have seen elective judges (and their campaign committees) using social media to promote themselves; or you may have seen or heard about judges publicly endorsing candidates for public office through social media.  The brand new opinion speaks to all three of these examples (and a few others).  In light of the many judicial ethics considerations when judges communicate publicly (whether through social media or older methods), however, the opinion understandably offers very few bright-line rules.  The opinion does, however, generally take a pro-social media tone:

Judicious use of ESM can benefit judges in both their personal and professional lives. As their use of this technology increases, judges can take advantage of its utility and potential as a valuable tool for public outreach. When used with proper care, judges’ use of ESM does not necessarily compromise their duties under the Model Code any more than use of traditional and less public forms of social connection such as U.S. Mail, telephone, email or texting.

For the full opinion, click here.

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