February 27, 2019 Top Story

Is Judicial Internet Research Ethical?

Courts should limit fact-finding online in pending cases, ABA Committee finds

By Lauren M. Gregory

An opinion from the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concludes that judges risk violating the Model Code of Judicial Conduct if they consult the Internet regarding parties or facts in pending cases.

Judges should not use the Internet to fill in “adjudicative facts” affecting the outcome of a specific dispute

Judges should not use the Internet to fill in “adjudicative facts” affecting the outcome of a specific dispute

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In clarifying the application of Model Rule of Judicial Conduct 2.9(c), Formal Opinion 478 provides strict limitations on judicial use of the still-evolving medium of Internet research. While “legislative facts” that go to general policy questions are fair game, the opinion concludes, judges should not use the Internet to fill in “adjudicative facts” affecting the outcome of a specific dispute.

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