Social media has changed the way lawsuits are handled. Almost anyone can connect over Facebook, which means that social media relationships may lead to conflicts during a lawsuit.
The Florida Supreme Court recently clarified how courts can handle social media relationships. According to its ruling, judges do not need to disqualify themselves from cases if they are Facebook “friends” with lawyers involved in the cases.
This ruling came from an appeal filed by the Herssein Law Group, which was in a legal dispute with one of its former clients, United States Automobile Association. The case involved attorney fees, a breach of contract, and alleged fraud. Herssein sought to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko because she was Facebook friends with one of the attorneys on the opposing counsel. Butchko did not step aside, which caused the case to go to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and then the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Charles Canady thought that it was necessary to first distinguish the relationship between Facebook friends and traditional friends. According to Canady, many Facebook friends are strangers or have only met once or twice, and so they do not necessarily have actual friendships. Therefore, these relationships should not be singled out and subjected to a “per se” disqualification rule.
On the opposing side of this argument, social media friendships between judges and attorneys could show a sense of impropriety. As such, judges should avoid having Facebook accounts. If they do, they should ensure they are not “friends” with any lawyers in their cases. In itself, a Facebook “friendship” doesn’t have to mean anything. However, traditional friendships are always possible on Facebook. Impartiality is important in the field of law. Bias in the courtroom can lead to an unfair trial.
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