An ethical conundrum exists for the bench and bar connecting through social media, let alone communicating on those platforms. The ethical waters are still just as muddy as the various states’ opinions across the nation. Many judges have made the decision to remain off of social media altogether – a “better safe than sorry approach.” But as social and technological changes progress, is such a disconnect realistic? Do the ethical rules for lawyers and judges already sufficiently address these risks of impartiality, ex parte communication, and other potential imbalances to justice?
Judges themselves don’t seem quite sure. In a 2014 survey of 252 judges, 44.5 percent agreed that judges can use Facebook without ethics concerns, a drop of more than 5 percent from a 2013 survey. Twenty-seven percent said they disagreed with the statement and more than 28 percent were neutral. (Conference of Court Public Information Officers New Media Survey, 2014.)
What is clear is that legal professionals must exercise additional caution when it comes to social media use, if they are using social media at all.
Focus on The Public’s Perception
Under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63(A)(5) (Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3), “[a] judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications, or consider other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties concerning a pending or impending proceeding …” The purpose of this rule, with limited exceptions, is to ensure that parties and counsel to matters may present their case free of procedural or tactical advantage, including the mere perception of such.
Likewise, Rule 62(A) (Canon 2) reiterates this point in a broader sense near the start of the Code of Judicial Conduct, “[a] A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Its following Committee Commentary emphasizes that:
READ MORE Illinois Courts Connect November 29, 2017