Texas Judges Still Have Online Lawyer "Friends" — But For How Long?

Blue McCaws photo by Bruce A Campbell Unlike Florida, New York, and South Carolina, Texas does not appear to have an opinion addressing the question of whether Texas Judges can participate in online social networking.

Texas judges are currently allowed to choose who they will “friend” in social networking media. Judge Susan Criss of Galveston’s 212th District Court says she follows her ethical canons and is careful about what she says and who she friends. She “friends” all lawyers in order to avoid an appearance that she favors one side over another. (Judge Criss was a panelist in the ABA program, “Courts and Media in the 21st Century,” presented on July 31, 2009.)

The Ethical Canons that Criss referred to are Canon 2B and Canon 4A:

Texas Canon 2B: A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests 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. A judge shall not testify voluntarily as a character witness.

Texas Canon 4A: Extra-judicial duties in general.
A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; or
(2) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

While the Canons do not, on their face, prohibit Texas judges from social networking, some, like Judge Orlinda Naranjo of Travis County’s 419th District Court, have chosen not to participate. (“Social Networks Help Judges Do Their Duty,” Miriam Rozen. Law Technology News, August 25, 2009.)

Comparison Between The Model Rules And The States’ Rules

Chart of Judical Canons
(Click on image to open larger chart in new window.)

Even though the canons are essentially the same, the opinions range from prohibiting judges from “friending” lawyers (See Online Social Networking For Judges: Florida Prohibits Judges To “Friend” Lawyers), to allowing judges to “friend” lawyers (New York Permits Judges To “Friend” Lawyers), to encouraging judges to “friend” people in the community (South Carolina Permits Judges To Participate in Social Networks).

Many Texas judges enjoy a collegiate relationship with lawyers. For example, the Galveston County Young Lawyers host a judicial reception as:

an informal atmosphere outside the courtroom where young lawyers could network with the area judges…. Attendance by the judiciary is always strong and truly affords the attorneys a chance to mingle with the judges in front of whom they practice.

It is important to note that the lawyers socialize with the judges “in front of whom they practice.” It is this type of relationship that formed the basis for prohibiting online social networking for Florida judges.

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