The Supreme Court of Florida ruled on Thursday that a Facebook friendship between a trial judge and an attorney appearing before him or her is not sufficient grounds for the judge to be disqualified from presiding over the matter.
The Florida Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to “avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.” The decision resolved a split between the Third and Fourth District Courts of Appeal about whether a social media “friendship” between a judge and a lawyer violates that requirement.
The Florida Supreme Court held that Facebook friendships are indeterminate in nature and often more casual and less permanent than traditional friendships. The majority opinion states:
The establishment of a Facebook “friendship” does not objectively signal the existence of the affection and esteem involved in a traditional “friendship.” Today it is commonly understood that Facebook “friendship” exists on an even broader spectrum than traditional “friendship.” Traditional “friendship” varies in degree from greatest intimacy to casual acquaintance; Facebook “friendship” varies in degree from greatest intimacy to “virtual stranger” or “complete stranger.”
The court further held that “case law clearly establishes that not every relationship characterized as a friendship provides a basis for disqualification. And there is no reason that Facebook ‘friendships’ — which regularly involve strangers — should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.” Accordingly, because of the variable nature of social media friendships, the court found that the mere existence of such a friendship does not create the kind of bias or impropriety required by the code of judicial conduct for a judge to be disqualified.