Should Judges be able to Use Social Media?

“Should judges be able to use social media?”
When I first posed this question my answer was a resounding yes. As long as they’re operating within professional bounds why not be able to enjoy the medium that has taken the world by storm. Such a perspective might even be beneficial when making decisions that will increasingly incorporate social media.

My answer tot his question became less clear when I heard the story of a Judge caught sending improper IMs to his wife during court. Is this wrong? Well at first glance, no. He’s chatting with his wife which in this day and age is to be commended in and of itself. However, as you continue to think through the issue a bigger problem presents itself. When the judge presiding over your case is so distracted by sexual messages to his wife, are you being afford a fair trial? This is where my opinion changes and I decided to explore details of this story.

A New Mexico judge, Eugenio Mathis of Las Vegas, N.M., admitted that he had engaged in “excessive and improper” instant messaging with his wife, but denied that any communications included intimations of courthouse sex, the Albuquerque Journal reports. The Santa Fe New Mexican and the Associated Press also have stories on Mathis’ subsequent resignation.

According to the Albuquerque Journal:

A thick packet of chat logs, presumably between Mathis and his wife, were filed at the Supreme Court as part of the Judicial Standards Commission’s petition to discipline Mathis.

In the messages, the chatters talk about dinner plans, flirt, ask each other how their day is going, discuss paying bills and gossip about their co-workers at court.

The log shows someone making a comment about making “hanky panky” while someone tests the court’s alarm system.

“Don’t come knocking if the jury room is rockin’,” one message reads.

It can be difficult to determine from the logs who is saying what, but one such interaction appears to show the chatters joking about denying a juror’s request to be excused to attend a funeral.

The problem with this, according to the Supreme Court filings by the Judicial Standards Commission, is that these conversations take place over the state court’s instant messaging service in violation of a computer and Internet use policy.

In the motion, Mathis also admitted to violating the code of conduct by making “judicial statements” about pending cases, referring to a petitioner in a name change case as “weird” and failing to cooperate with other judges “in the proper and orderly administration of court business.”

One of these comments included referring to parties in a domestic violence hearing as acting crazy.

When you accept the role of judge you are held to a higher standard, not only by virtue of the job but according to the ethical and moral standards to you swear to uphold. We’ve all gotten bored at work or wanted to have notwork-related conversation but as a judge you are not afforded such a luxury.  Beyond that you open up the proceeding to additional scrutiny. Any party to a proceeding he was trying during these messages has grounds to petition for a mistrial.The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released a formal opinion discussing the use of social media by judges.  See American Bar Association, “Judge’s Use of Electronic Social Networking Media,” Formal Op. 462 (Feb. 21, 2013).  In short, the ABA stated that a judge may use social media, but like other offline contacts and professional relationships, he or she must comply with applicable ethical rules and not engage in any behavior that would undermine the integrity or impartiality of the court.  This judge definitely crossed this line and is unfortunately suffering the consequences.
In my opinion, judges should be able to use social media but the degree of use, time of use, and computer used should be well thought out. Sometime we must sacrifice certain luxuries for our dreams and maybe social media use is one of the luxuries that must be sacrificed to pursue our passions.When using social media be aware of the obligations of your position and determine if the risks outweigh the benefits or at least modify your use accordingly.  Even judges can get in trouble for social media & internet use. This should be a warning to everyone. Keep your social media use to minimum at work and especially on your work computer.

What do you think? Should judges be able to use social media??

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