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Internet causing ethical problems for miami judges

December 28, 2009

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Miami judges have been put on notice by Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee that listing lawyers on their list of friends via social networks on the internet is now deemed to be inappropriate. The opinion has caused many judges to remove lawyers' names from their list of friends and contacts. The directive does not specifically address Facebook, but refers to all social networking sites. The advisory applies to circuit and county court judges alike, whether it be in civil or criminal court. While the advisory makes sense, there a bigger concerns.

According to the committee, the problem is with the fact that everyone can see who is on any particular judge's list of friends. The committee issued a statement with the new directive proclaiming that listing lawyers as friends may cause the appearance of a conflict of interest. They cite to a cannon in the ethics code which prohibits judges from doing anything that could "lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of judges or others." It is the opinion of this Miami criminal lawyer, that this latest ruling is absurd in light of other circumstances that have existed in Miami and South Florida's legal community for years. The Florida bar is concerned with judges listing lawyers as friends on their social networks, however, the bar has no problem with lawyers making campaign contributions to the judges they appear before on a daily basis.

Tony Alfiera, a law professor at the University of Miami said the recent ruling protects the appearance of judicial impartiality. Alfieri is quoted as saying, "the integrity and independence of the judiciary as democratic values depend in large part on the good-faith efforts of the judiciary to not only act impartially, but appear to act impartially." What would appear more inappropriate in the public's eyes, judges having lawyers on their list of friends, or receiving money from the same lawyers so they can win an election? Lawyers that contribute to election campaigns have their names made part of the public record.

With that in mind, the ethics committee should issue a directive precluding all lawyers from contributing the election campaigns of judges running for office. Not only does receiving money from lawyers look inappropriate from an ethical standpoint, it is placing an unfair burden on lawyers. Some Miami criminal defense attorneys feel obligated to contribute to election campaigns knowing that judges will know who did not place a check in the mail. The committee should issue an advisory prohibited lawyers from providing campaign funds to judges and prohibiting judges form soliciting money from members of the bar.

Florida Judges Advised to Unfriend Lawyers, Law Technology News, December 21, 2009.
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