August 19, 2019 Top Story

Facebook "Friendship" Leads to Judge's Disqualification

Litigant's "friend request" and "likes" give rise to appearance of impropriety

By Mark A. Flores

The ease of establishing contacts on the internet can lead to hard ethical questions regarding appearances of impropriety.

Faced with such a question, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin refused to draw a bright-line rule prohibiting the judicial use of social media. However, the court held, in the case of In re Paternity of BJM, that accepting a Facebook “friend” request from a party with a motion pending creates an appearance of impropriety and warrants replacing the judge.

A Secret Request

The parties were engaged in a child-custody dispute in which one party accused the other of domestic abuse. They participated in an evidentiary hearing and, later, written briefing to the lower court. Three days after the parties submitted their briefs, the judge accepted the Facebook “friend” request of the accusing party but failed to disclose this new connection to the accused or his counsel.

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