When is a Facebook Friend Friendly Enough to Seek Mandatory Recusal of a Judge who is Facebook Friends with an Implicated Party to the Judge’s Case?

What Makes a Friend a True Friend? Judges as Facebook Friends: Not Enough for a Recusal.

Author: Frank McLaughlin
Case Citation: Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A. v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n, 229 So.3d 408 (FL. App. 2017).
Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: Company Executive as Witness and Potential Party, Law Firm Plaintiff, Trial Judge
eLesson Learned: If a judge, who is trying a case, is merely Facebook “friends” with any parties in the case, that alone is not enough to seek mandatory recusal of the judge, so do not waste your time and money trying to do recuse a judge in this instance unless there is more proof of the judge’s close, real-life friendship with any of the parties.

What happens when a judge trying your case is friends with the opposing side or a witness in the case? This, without getting into the legalese, usually does not pass the “smell test.” After all, what kind of legal system would we be burdened with if a judge is able to try a case, where he is friends with your enemy? Ultimately, we are all human and the law recognizes there are some unsurmountable levels of bias our human minds cannot ignore, so we are able to petition to have a judge recuse herself in this situation if there is a basis for a well-grounded fear that the judge cannot be impartial or that the judge is under the influence of an involved party.

Typically, if a judge were friends with the defendant or the plaintiff or even a witness, this would help support a reasonable basis to think that judge cannot be impartial. For example, Judge Brown is friendly with Johnny Badstuff, and they play basketball every morning before they part their separate ways. If Johnny Badstuff were to be brought forth on charges of murder in front of Judge Brown, how can Judge Brown impartially weigh the merits both for and against his best bud’s case? BRING ON THE DIGITAL AGE.

In this case, the plaintiff sought to have a judge mandatorily recuse himself based merely on the fact that the judge was a Facebook “friend” with a possible witness and possible party to the case.  Reasonable request, right? I mean, if a judge is friends with an involved party to a case, the judge shouldn’t be able to try that case due to lack of impartiality. BUT, is a Facebook “friend” actually a good enough friend to diminish a judge’s impartiality?

Here, the answer was no. The Florida Court of Appeals ruled that a Facebook “friend” and that alone is not enough to force a judge to recuse himself in the case. Their reasoning is rock solid. Just because we are friends on Facebook does not mean I am actually friends with you or that I actually have any real-world connection to you. The Court pointed out that many people are friends with random people on Facebook, thanks to Facebook’s patented algorithm that matches random people that may be similar. Also, the Court pointed out that many people are Facebook “friends” with celebrities when they actually have no real connection to that person other than their Facebook bond.

Ultimately, being a Facebook “friend” and that alone is not enough to prove a judge is actually friends with anyone UNLESS there is more to substantiate that claim.

Frank McLaughlin is currently a law student at Seton Hall University School of Law, and he is in his last semester of his 3L year.  Frank has worked throughout law school and continues to work at Lasser Hochman, LLC, where he is a law clerk and focuses on real estate and finance law.  Prior to attending law school, he attended George Mason University, where he earned a B.S. in both finance and economics. After graduating from George Mason University, Frank worked as an accountant and a consultant for a public accounting firm in Washington, D.C., for three years and then worked in the CFO’s office at Prudential Financial, Inc. in Newark, NJ.

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