Be Careful Who You “Friend”!

A recent email from my colleague, Joe Corsmeier, who writes an excellent blog on lawyer discipline and various ethics opinions, points out an issue of which practicing lawyers need to be aware. In a recent Miami case, a motion was made to recuse a judge because the judge was “friends” of opposing counsel. While the case is currently on appeal, it sets forth an issue many of us may have not foreseen.

As this author is not a litigator and is not frequently in front of judges, this opinion points out an issue that may still arise in practice. Many “office” lawyers may appear in front of judges in various probate, trust and settlement matters. Our community in Clearwater is small and many judges, prior to becoming a judge, were practitioners and friends.

A 2009 Florida Supreme Court Judicial Advisory Committee (the”Committee”) opinion provides that judges should not send or accept “friend” requests from lawyers that appear before them. Such requests “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer “friends” are in a special position to influence the judge”. The opinion points out that while the “friend” may not actually influence the judge, such appearance that the lawyer is in a position to influence the judge is not permitted.

In 2012,  the Committee issued another opinion confirming the 2009 opinion as it relates to sites such as Linkedin and other professional networking associations. Such “connections” violate Canon 2B of the Judicial Canons, “[a] judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”

While most of us are not judges, let us make it easier for our judge “friends” by “unfriending” the judges in front of whom we practice. Of course, we can still have face to face conversations with them at local or voluntary bar meetings and other events.

ADVICE: Check your “friends” on Facebook. Be sure that you do not have any judges, in front of whom you practice, as friends that were friends prior to their selection as judge. It appears that, if you are in front of this particular judge, opposing counsel may have authority to recuse the judge.

WORD OF THE WEEK: Advisory ethics opinions are published by the Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee to guide bar members in interpreting and applying the ethics rules. Advisory ethics opinions are not binding. Members of the Florida Bar in good standing who wish to receive an oral advisory opinion about their own contemplated conduct may call (800) 235-8619 to reach an ethics attorney. To receive a written ethics opinion, which takes 3-5 weeks, members of The Florida Bar in good standing may make written inquiry to The Ethics Department, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300. Advisory ethics opinions can be appealed to the Professional Ethics Committee and, ultimately, to the Bar’s Board of Governors according to The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics.



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