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Do judges need to be more social media savvy?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 08/03/16

A recent article in a respected US legal journal has addressed concerns over the savviness of judges on social media platforms and highlighted the growing phenomenon of legal professionals ‘using social media badly.’
It’s safe to say that the majority of judges are aren’t going to belong to either ‘generation x’ or the ‘millennials’- two generations often characterised by their intrinsic relationship with social media. Yet in spite of this, the number of legal professionals establishing a presence online is experiencing a significant rise.

Unfortunately what is also on the rise are instances of judges making case jeopardising slip ups on social media. Trial lawyer John G Browning and Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willet recently co-authored an article for the Texas Bar Journal in which they regaled readers with examples of just how judicial presence on social media can go horribly wrong.

In one instance, Edward Bearse a senior judge from Minnesota made comments about a trial he was presiding over, believing that only his friends and family would be able to view the post. The judge was publically reprimanded for the comments which implied the guilt of defendant in an on-going sex trafficking case and the verdict was vacated as a result.

In another similar instance, a US court district judge was accused of partiality after he posted on Twitter that a lumber producer was ‘still responsible’ for a significant fire, while the case, which he was presiding over, was still pending.

While the authors argue that presence of judges on social media is beneficial to promoting transparency and demystifying the judicial process, they also warn that ‘whether writing a 140-page opinion or a 140-character tweet, judges must always be judicious.’