ABA: Judges and social media

Judges may participate in electronic social networking but, as with all social relationships and contacts, they must comply with relevant judicial ethics provisions, according to a new ethics opinion from the American Bar Association.

Formal Opinion 462, “Judge’s Use of Electronic Social Networking Media,” also calls on jurists to avoid conduct that would undermine their independence, integrity or impartiality, or create an appearance of impropriety.

The opinion, issued by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, discusses factors for judges to consider when participating in social media, such as sharing comments and photos; being friended or otherwise associated with potential or current parties, counsel, witnesses, jurors or other litigation participants; and campaigning for office or supporting a political candidate.

The ethics opinion also discusses considerations for possible disclosure of such activities to parties in a case and disqualification from hearing a case if necessary.

The opinion cites various state ethics opinions on judges’ use of social media and relevant portions of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which serves as the basis for state judicial ethics cannons.

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior.

Formal Opinion 462 and other ABA ethics opinions are available at the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s website, www.americanbar.org/cpr.

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