Pennsylvania Judges Under Fire for Their Use of Social Media

There has been a recent flurry of judges in the media concerning impartiality and facebook.

In September of 2011, a Pennsylvania Judge, Thomas A. Placey, was criticized for presiding over a preliminary hearing involving a defendant that was (now de-friended) one of the judge’s “facebook friends.” Judge Placey said he knew Horn’s father, a former county sheriff’s deputy who died in 2006, but the Judge indicated that they aren’t real friends and he accepts every friend request that he receives on facebook.  Horn said he became “facebook friends” with Judge Placey about two years prior.

On January 14, 2012, Prosecutors requested that Philadelphia municipal court Judge, Charles Hayden, recuse himself from hearing the drunk-driving case of state Rep. Cherelle Parker of Philadelphia because they are friends on facebook.

Judge Hayden declined to recuse himself.

These situations are causing judges to rethink their involvement in social media.  Many have started “de-friending” those facebook friends who are not actually close friends or family. Others are deleting their accounts altogether.  Though arguably most situations involving judges and social media friends will not create actual impartiality, judges are held to a higher standard. Judges are required to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  Additionally, the United States Code of Conduct states that Judges should recuse themselves if impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

Under these canons, the use of social media by judges creates a question as to whether having such social media friendships is worth the risk.