The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

Texas Judge Disciplined for Facebooking About a Trial Over Which She Presided

Posted by kswisher on Wednesday, April, 29, 2015

This week, the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished Galveston Judge Michelle Slaughter for posting about the criminal trial then-pending before her.  In the so-called “boy in a box case,” Judge Slaughter admonished the jurors not to post on Facebook (or other social media) about the case and then proceeded the next day to post about the status of the case and demonstrative evidence on her own Facebook account.  She also posted a link to this news article about the case.  (Of note, a member of the public posted the following comment in response to Judge Slaughter’s post: “One of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies is ‘Hang ‘Em High’, jus [sic] sayin [sic] your honor. . . .”  Judge Slaughter permitted, perhaps inadvertently, that comment to remain on her Facebook page for several months.)  In other posts, Judge Slaughter also commented on an unrelated child pornography case and called a defendant “very challenging.”  In light of her posts, a defendant moved to disqualify Judge Slaughter, and another judge granted the motion.  This mid-trial disqualification caused a mistrial in the defendant’s case.

The Texas Commission concluded that: “Despite her contention that the information she provided was public information, Judge Slaughter cast reasonable doubt upon her own impartiality and violated her own admonition to jurors by turning to social media to publicly discuss cases pending in her court, giving rise to a legitimate concern that she would not be fair or impartial in the [‘boy in a box’] case or in other high-profile cases. The comments went beyond providing an explanation of the procedures of the court and highlighted evidence that had yet to be introduced at trial.”  The full decision, which Judge Slaughter plans to appeal, is available here.  For other posts highlighting the need to approach social media cautiously (or to avoid it entirely as to pending cases over which the judge is presiding), see here and here.

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