“Defriending” on Facebook my real-world friends who happen to be judges

Having practiced law in Georgia for 32 years, and having been somewhat involved in the Bar, I now find that a lot of my old friends and classmates have become judges. A lot of them were friends long before they put on a black robe and will be friends after they retire from the bench.

Now the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has ruled, under the authority of the Florida Supreme Court, that judges and lawyers cannot be "friends" on Facebook and other social media, even if they are friends offline.

So a couple of days ago, over a lunch with a judge who is a true friend, we decided to "defriend" each other on Facebook. Then we had coffee and dessert, and parted as friends.






Ken Shigley, an Atlanta attorney, launched the first law firm web site in Georgia in 1996, and the second lawyer blog in the state. He is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group. His practice focuses on representing people who are catastrophically injured, and families of those killed, primarily in commercial trucking and bus accidents. Mr. Shigley also has extensive experience representing parties in  products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury and burn injury cases. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacyhas been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale).  Currently he is treasurer, and unopposed as a candidate for president-elect, of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia.

 For criteria to be considered in selecting an attorney, see The Smart Consumer’s Guide to Hiring a Great Lawyer.

  • David W.

    Florida and most other states don’t forbid judges to be real-world friends with lawyers who may appear before them.
    A judge who shows favoritism to a lawyer or anyone else who is a personal friend may be sanctioned, In re Graziano, 696 So.2d 744 (Fla. 1997) (judge improperly influenced hiring decision and pay raise on behalf of a friend); Florida Bar v. Von Zamft, 814 So.2d 385 (Fla. 2002) (lawyer took judge to lunch and improperly used friendship to ask for continuance in pending case), but the mere existence of a friendship between lawyer and judge is not considered to be a violation of judicial ethics in and of itself.
    So the Committee’s approach actually treats a Facebook friendship between lawyers and judges as a more serious breach of judicial etiquette than a genuinely close friendship between the two.
    Their decision doesn’t offer any rationalization or analysis of why they feel it’s improper; they just say it is. There’s no justification for a rule that bans essentially innocuous Facebook friendships but turns a blind eye to real friendships. Neither one should be categorically prohibited in the abstract.