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Thursday, August 24, 2017

When is a Facebook "Friend" Really A Friend (IRL)?

When is a Facebook "friend" considered a friend IRL (in real life)?  Yesterday, a Florida appeals court ruled that the mere fact that a trial court judge was Facebook friends with an attorney did not disqualify the judge from hearing a case involving that attorney. Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein v. U.S. Automobile Association.

The underlying dispute in this case isn't really important, at least not to this post. The issue before the appeals court was the plaintiff's request that the trial court judge be disqualified because the judge was "friends" on Facebook with a lawyer representing a potential witness and party in the underlying dispute. The trial court had denied the request, and that decision was appealed to the appellate court. 

The appellate court looked at the factors for determining whether a judge should be disqualified, including whether a reasonably prudent person would fear he could not get a "fair and impartial trial" before the judge. In this case, the appellate court determined that Facebook friendship between a judge and an attorney, on its own, was not enough to warrant disqualification of the judge, stating as follows:
A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.
The appellate court acknowledged that people can have thousands of Facebook "friends," that a person may not even remember who he or she had "friended" in the past, and that some "friendships" may be due more to Facebook's  data-mining technology than personal interactions. In short, the court rejected any assumption that all Facebook "friends" should rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification. Based on the facts presented in this particular case, the court found no support for disqualification of the judge in the underlying dispute.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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