Facebook strikes again

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

Warning to most of us who are on Facebook. Be very careful who you friend. I know Facebook is not on the top of my priority list or daily practice of law, and I suspect the same goes for most attorneys who happen to be members. We’ve probably all read some of the stories about jurors’ Facebook activity during trials like complaining about other jurors, expressing views on the case and even ‘friending’ the defendant. But this should serve as a reminder of the potential professional hazards of Facebook use for lawyers.

Not carefully scrutinizing who you allow to be your friend can have very real consequences in our practice. Just ask the Will County judge who was accused of bias in the case involving a defendant charged with battering a baby. The woman was found guilty of battering a baby in 2011 wants her conviction overturned partly because family members of her victim are Facebook “friends” with her judge’s children.

The story gave me pause, not because of the conduct alleged but the potential ramifications and how rapidly the practice of law is changing before our eyes.  We have enough on our legal plates to deal with and this has now been piled on top.  Now I’m full. But in all seriousness, your relationships on Facebook can cost you your case. Imagine this, you have just completed a three-week medical malpractice trial, and you win. The other side discovers a juror on the case has a sister who went to high school with your spouse and is Facebook friends.  The usual drama ensues, and your whole case, effort, and result could go away.

Inevitably these situations will start to become more and more frequent as we become more interconnected through Facebook.  The good news is this is something we can somewhat control and monitor.  Well for one, we can choose not to be on Facebook but that is not really an option for most.  Or you can really pay attention to who is on your friend list. If you don’t know them, then they should not be on there. When it does come to trials make sure you vet the jurors.  You can never be too careful and it does not require much time or effort.

Another area of concern on Facebook is friending judges. Probably not a good idea. Especially judges you may, in your practice, appear in front of.  In 2009 Florida banned judges from being friends with any attorney on certain social networking sites.   Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee determined the term “friends” conveys the traditional meaning of close affection and therefore could be in apposition to influence the judge.  It may be overreaching but better safe than sorry. As far as I know Illinois has not yet taken this approach but I would not be surprised if they did.  My point is be aware if could be an issue and take steps to protect yourself from a Facebook pitfall. Use with care!



2 responses to “Facebook strikes again

  1. We are letting technology get in the way of common sense.

    First, the reality to me is that “friending” someone on Facebook is sometimes less personal than the relationships we have in real life. There are people on LinkedIn and Facebook who will literally friend anyone, and tout that view on their webpages. (A secondary question is whether LinkedIn’s business focus makes it somehow different from Facebook, which is more “social.”) While there are people on my page I have known since grammar school, not everyone is in that category. It’s just a convenient way to keep in touch with my “social” network. There is also not a single person on that page for whom I would risk my law license and my livelihood by seeking or providing improper influence.

    Second, we have to ask ourselves how this technology changes the reality that we have without it. If I regularly share dinner with a member of a judiciary at a bar event, or even having an occasional social interaction, such as having lunch or drinks, with a judge, am I disqualifying myself from practicing in his/her courtroom? What about appearing before the judge I clerked for on an entirely new matter? Could we not be called “friends”? I can understand more easily if we vacation together frequently, or were once partners in the same firm, or are otherwise related by blood or marriage. But if not, then I frankly fail to understand the problem, unless we’ve decided we’re going to ridiculous for a living.

    In fact, I might suggest that one of the reasons civility and professional courtesy have taken a turn for the worse in recent years is the absence of relationships between members of the Bar and the bench. Attorneys were far more circumspect when they knew the judge and the judge knew them. I suggest that we not let a knee jerk reaction to technology give things an appearance they might not otherwise deserve and alter our conduct in ways that are not productive. I am not for a minute suggesting that we abandon the appearance of bias standard; I am simply suggesting that we be rational in interpreting it and careful where we think we find it, without real facts for support.

  2. Thanks that helps alot, I knew someone understood.

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