Authored by Julie Tappendorf and originally posted on her blog, Municipal Minute, for Ancel Glink covering a variety of local government issues.
We've reported quite a bit about the impact employee social media use can have on the employee's job and the employer. Recently, a New Mexico Supreme Court cautioned a district court judge about his Facebook activities as they related to a case pending before the judge. State of New Mexico v. Thomas.
The case involved a trial where the court found the defendant guilty of murder and kidnapping. The defendant had appealed his convictions on numerous grounds, including that the judge violated the judicial code of conduct by demonstrating bias in his social media postings. Specifically, the judge has posted the following on his judicial campaign Facebook page:
I am on the third day of presiding over my 'first' first-degree murder trial as a judge.
In the trial I presided over, the jury returned guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and kidnapping just after lunch. Justice was served. Thank you for your prayers.
The Supreme Court reversed the defendant's convictions, although it did not base its decision on the defendant's claim of judicial bias. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court did take the opportunity to express its concerns over the use of social media by judges in the opinion, as follows:
While we make no bright-line ban prohibiting judicial use of social media, we caution that "friending," online postings, and other activity can easily be misconstrued and create an appearance of impropriety. Online comments are public comments and a connection via an online social network is a visible relationship. regardless of the strength of the personal connection.
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We clarify that a judge who is a candidate should post no personal messages on the pages of these campaign sites other than a statement regarding qualifications, should allow no posting of public comments, and should engage in no dialogue, especially regarding any pending matters that could either be interpreted as ex parte communications or give the appearance of impropriety.
While the judge's postings were seemingly innocuous, the Court seemed more concerned about the appearance of impropriety when a judge comments on a case before him or her.