March 23, 2020 Top Story

Let’s Just Be "Friends"

Facebook friendship alone not enough to disqualify Florida judge

By Anthony R. McClure

Though a Wisconsin appellate court held last year that a judge who accepted a “friend” request from a party should be replaced, the Florida Supreme Court has held a Facebook “friendship” with counsel is not grounds for disqualification. The 4–3 decision in Law Offices of Herssein & Herssein, P.A. v. United Services Automobile Association departs from standing Florida precedent and highlights the lack of uniformity in guidance on the issue of social media relationships with judges.

A digital "friend" does not constitute an actual friendship

A digital "friend" does not constitute an actual friendship

Westend61 via Getty Images

Herssein Finds No Basis for Disqualification

In the underlying lawsuit, the plaintiff law firm sued the defendant over unpaid legal bills. While that case was pending, the plaintiff law firm filed a motion to disqualify the trial judge, in part on the fact that an attorney appearing “on behalf of a potential witness and potential party in the pending litigation” was listed as a “friend” on the judge’s personal Facebook page. The trial judge denied the disqualification motion as legally insufficient, despite the submission of affidavits from attorneys citing “a well-grounded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.”

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