An ethics panel under the supervision of the Ohio Supreme Court issued last month its Opinion 2010-7, available here, which addresses the applicable provisions of the judicial code of ethics that are triggered when judges "friend" lawyers online in connection with social media sites such as Facebook. The issue arises, for example, when a lawyer appearing before a judge is listed as the judge’s "friend" on Facebook, but an opposing lawyer in the same case before the judge does not enjoy such a privilege. The decision linked above acknowledges that a friend on sites like Facebook is not the same as a "friend" in the "pre-social media", conventional sense of the word, but that depending on the circumstances it could improperly diminish confidence in the fairness of the judicial system or it could inappropriately suggest that someone appearing before a jurist is in a position to influence the jurist in an unfair manner.
The panel did not conclude that "friending" between lawyers and judges via this online means is "per se prohibited" by the rules of judicial conduct, but urged caution and vigilance to avoid those situations where violations could occur. The opinion refers to other state ethics panels that have reached similar conclusions, but, by contrast, a citation is also provided to a Florida ruling that did find a violation of judicial ethics in a related situation.
What the opinion did not address, however, and what is beyond the scope of this short blog blurb, is the "net impact" of a judge "defriending" or "blocking" a lawyer from his or her Facebook page, and the issues of fairness that are triggered by such a situation especially if an opposing lawyer was not "defriended or blocked" in connection with the judge’s online profile page.