Next time you get down on yourself about that selfie that didn’t get as many likes as you hoped, just remember that social media is not real life. That’s what one appeals court has ruled after a Miami judge faced calls to recuse herself from a case because she is Facebook friends with one of the attorneys on the case.
The 10-page ruling, which was handed down by the Third District Court of Appeals, set a precedent that one does not necessarily have a close or influential relationship with another person just because they are “friends” on social media, the Miami Herald reported.
“Electronic social media is evolving at an exponential rate,” Judge Thomas Logue wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Acceptance as a Facebook ‘friend’ may well once have given the impression of close friendship and affiliation. Currently, however, the degree of intimacy among Facebook ‘friends’ varies greatly.”
The kerfuffle stems from a legal spat between Miami law firm Herssein and Herssein and its former client, the United States Automobile Association, which was assigned to Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko.
The plaintiffs argued that since Butchko was Facebook friends with Israel Reyes, a former Miami-Dade circuit judge who had been hired to represent one of the auto group’s executives, their relationship could result in an unfair verdict and she should recuse herself.
While judges are legally permitted to maintain “mere friendships” with attorneys and still allow them to remain on a case, the introduction of social media into the fold has been a source of confusion over the years. In 2012, the Palm Beach appeals court ruled that a judge had to recuse himself from a case because he was Facebook friends with the prosecutor, suggesting that the issue could one day be arbitrated by the Florida Supreme Court.
Some legal experts believe that the matter of social media in the courtroom is far from settled.
“I don’t expect a 60-year-old judge to be on social media, but as you get younger judges who grew up with this stuff, the issue can only become more intense,” opined Bob Jarvis, an ethics law professor at Nova Southeastern University.