South Carolina Permits Judges To Participate in Social Networks

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Kittiwakes “networking” in Whittier, Alaska. © Bruce A. Campbell
South Carolina judges are free to participate in online social networking. In response to the question about whether a judge can “friend” law enforcement officers and employees of the court, the South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct issued the following conclusion in October 2009:

A judge may be a member of Facebook and be friends with law enforcement officers and employees of the Magistrate as long as they do not discuss anything related to the judge’s position as magistrate. (Opinion 17-2009)

The opinion states:

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 2(A), Rule 501, SCACR.

The opinion references Canon 2(A), Rule 501, SCACR in support. Both Rule 501 (Code of Judicial Conduct) and SCACR (South Carolina Appellate Court Rules) outline appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, which are summarized by Canon 2(A),

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

South Carolina Opinion Differs
From The Florida And New York Opinions

While the relevant Canons of South Carolina do not differ significantly from the Canons of Florida or New York, each state has interpreted them differently. Florida prohibits judges from “friending” lawyers who may appear before them (See Online Social Networking For Judges: Florida Prohibits Judges To “Friend” Lawyers), New York permits judges to “friend” anyone as long as it does not compromise the integrity of the judiciary (New York Permits Judges To “Friend” Lawyers), and South Carolina comes close to encouraging judges to participate in online social networking.

The commentary to Canon 4 states that complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives. Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge. Thus, a judge may be a member of a social networking site such as Facebook.

Problems Of The Opinion

There are two problems with the opinion that are relevant to our discussion of judges “friending” lawyers.

  1. The opinion does not specifically address the issue if online social networking between judges and lawyers. On the one hand, the conclusion limits the opinion to approving networking between judges and “law enforcement officers and employees of the Magistrate.” On the other hand, the use of “community” in the discussion of the opinion suggests that it applies to a much broader context.

Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge.

 

  • Like the New York Opinion, the South Carolina opinion focuses on principle rather that concrete examples. Therefore, the decision about what constitutes questionable activities will have to be made on a case by case basis.
  • The Strength Of The Opinion

    There strength of the opinion lies in its brevity. The single condition for participating in online social networking is “do not discuss anything related to the judge’s position as magistrate.”

    Conclusion

    The South Carolina Opinion allows online social networking between judges, law enforcement, and employees of the Magistrate. Its weaknesses include 1) a narrow focus (judges, law enforcement, and Magistrate employees) with possible extrapolation to the larger community and 2) the lack of concrete examples. Its strength is its single qualification “do not discuss anything related to the judge’s position as magistrate.”

    This is Part 3 in a series about “Online Social Networking For Judges.” In the next blog, I will consider how Texas might be influenced by these opinions.

    One Response to “South Carolina Permits Judges To Participate in Social Networks”

    1. Kent Ketring says:

      Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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