Sunday, May 2, 2010

Judges and the Internet -- Social Networking

By John DiMotto
In my last two posts, I have discussed the use of the internet as it pertains to cases. Today, I would like to look at the use of the internet as a social networking tool.
Much has been written about judges being on Facebook, Twitter, etc. The ethics of judicial networking is an issue that has been written about and even addressed by the judicial commissions of some states. Some articles and opinions see no problem at all. Some articles and opinions advise caution by judges who want to be on the social networking bandwagon. Some articles and opinions, particularly an opinion from Florida, take the position that judges should not engage in it at all. So, what is a judge to do.
In Wisconsin, this issue has not yet been addressed. I am of the opinion that when it is -- and it will be addressed sooner than later -- that our Judicial Commission (JC) will take the position that judges may engage in internet social networking but must do so with care and caution. I believe that our JC will indicate that to the same extent that judges can have relationships with lawyers and the public in general in person that judges can do so via internet social networking.
This would be a reasonable approach since judges do live and breath in the real world. We do not live or work in ivory towers. Of course, we must be neutral. Of course, we must avoid not just the appearance of impropriety but actual impropriety in our interactions with others. However, we can maintain our ethical obligations and still engage in internet social networking.
I have both a Twitter and a Facebook account.
With respect to my Twitter account, I like to post interesting articles that I find in the New York Times, Washington Post and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pertaining to how our government effectively or ineffectively addresses the issues of the day. I also like to follow legal consultants and jury consultants such as Jury Talk, trial insights, and The Jury Expert to see what is going on around the country with respect to jury related issues. I also use my Twitter account to post my blogs. It is a way to engage in the public. I do not discuss my cases, share my views on cases or solicit opinions regarding cases. I have a life on the bench and a life off the bench and I respect the line that divides them.
With respect to my Facebook account, I like to post sports articles and report what each day has in store for me -- generally but not "case specifically." On Facebook, I keep up on what other people think and feel about life around us and I participate in the social give and take of life. However, as with my Twitter account, I can and do keep separate my cases. I keep them in a "lockbox" of sorts since I do not want to know or solicit from others what they think about my cases. I should also point out that none of my friends have ever given me their thoughts or opinions about any of my cases. They know that there are lines that they too must not cross.
Social Networking keeps a judge in tune with life.

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