Can I Be Facebook Friends with My Judge?

The answer to that question is no, absolutely not. A recent Fifth District Court of Appeals case dealt with this issue. In Chance v. Loisel, the trial judge reached out to the Wife and tried to add her as a friend on Facebook. The Wife declined the friend request on advice from her lawyer. After she declined the friend request, the trial judge gave her the majority of the marital debt and gave her a disproportionately excessive alimony award.

The Wife thought the judge was attempting to punish her for refusing to accept the friend request. After the Final Judgment was entered, the Wife filed a formal complaint against the trial judge for attempting to Facebook friend her. After she filed the motion, she had learned of several other cases where the judge attempted to friend other parties on Facebook and was subsequently disqualified. The Wife filed her own motion seeking that the judge be disqualified, and surprisingly, the judge refused to grant the motion and remained on the case. The Wife appealed.

The appellate court cited the rules regarding disqualification stating that:

If the grounds asserted in a motion for disqualification are legally sufficient to create a well-founded fear in the mind of a party that he or she will not receive a fair trial, it is incumbent upon a judge to disqualify herself. See Fischer v. Knuck, 497 So. 2d 240, 242 (Fla. 1986). To determine whether the motion is “legally sufficient,” this Court must resolve whether the alleged facts, which, accepted as true, would prompt a reasonably prudent person to fear that she could not get a fair and impartial trial before that judge.

In this case, the appellate court found that, it seems clear that a judge's ex parte communication with a party presents a legally sufficient claim for disqualification, particularly in the case where the party's failure to respond to a Facebook “friend” request creates a reasonable fear of offending the solicitor. The “friend” request placed the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case or risk offending the judge by not accepting the “friend” request.

Cases like this are very rare. If you feel like your judge has acted impartial in your case, contact your expert family law attorney to discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.