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Judicial Misconduct: Judges Violate Their Oath with Social Media Posts

Retired North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson recently raised the ire of social media users when she used – and misspelled – a derogatory term to describe Bill Cosby.
Upset that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that Cosby’s prosecutors had broken the law, leading them to overturn his conviction, Judge Jackson called Cosby a “cretin” and asked Twitter to banish the comedian from its platform.
The post sparked backlash, even from those who don’t support Cosby.
It also led to the revelation of more egregious posts by judges called to sit as impartial jurists in their role of adjudicating the law.
Over the past two months alone, several judges have exercised their First Amendment rights on social media while throwing impartiality out of the window.
In New York, Judge Kenneth Knutsen resigned as the village of Schoharie’s justice and court associate after posting “partisan political content” and “commentary on pending cases,” including convicted Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
Knutson also allegedly wrote anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, pro-cop and anti-defendant posts on his Facebook page. He reached an agreement with the town to resign. As part of the deal, Knutsen agreed never to seek a judicial position.
“His departure was warranted,” Schoharie Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian stated.
A Judicial Inquiry Commission in Jefferson County, Ala., charged Circuit Judge Nakita Blocton with violating multiple rules of judicial ethics, including that she took an excessive amount of time to dispose of cases.
The commission found that Blocton used fake Facebook accounts to harass those involved in cases before her. She has denied the allegations but officials removed her from the bench.
The North Carolina Supreme Court censured retired District Court Judge C. Randy Pool for sexual misconduct, alleging that he attempted to meet women online while sitting on the bench.
The Judicial Standards Commission opined that Pool violated numerous codes of ethics during social media conversations with at least 35 women, including using vulgar language.
Experts say such actions by judges raise credibility issues, including whether they could make fair and impartial judgments.
One published report noted that protocol checks are rare and judges have frequently misbehaved online. Some have railed against litigants during – and sometimes after – cases are completed.
Each state’s judicial ethics board has written codes of conduct for judges to follow. Still, most do not expressly address social media norms of today nor account for shifting technologies, Agnieszka McPeak, an associate professor of law and director of the Center for Law, Ethics and Commerce at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington, told NBC News.
Others told the Informer that such actions remain reprehensible.
“Keep in mind that judges are often elected by the public. And in order to get re-elected, it is important that sitting judges maintain name recognition and a positive reputation among their constituents,” said Kris Parker, an attorney and political advisor at Hendry & Parker, PA.
“A presence on social media is a way for judges to accomplish both. It is, however, unbecoming of a judge to use such means as a way of taking political or otherwise controversial positions. While judges do enjoy First Amendment protections, they also have an ethical responsibility to stay above the fray of political matters,” Parker said.
For many jurists, who post, comment and blog about a wide variety of subjects ranging from the innocuous to the inappropriate, social media remains a way of life, added Wendy L. Patrick, a deputy district attorney in San Diego and a past chair of the California State Bar Ethics Committee.
“Balancing professional and personal responsibilities is particularly significant for judges, however, given their role in the legal system and concerns over the appearance of impropriety,” Parker noted.
“In reality, however, the same rules, guidelines and policies should govern a judge’s conduct both on and offline,” she said.
Carole Lieberman, known as “America’s Psychiatrist,” said she’s appalled by how social media comments and investigations are used to express hate.
“Judges are an exception,” Lieberman determined. “Judges are supposed to be completely neutral and unbiased. If they express strong opinions on social media, it is announcing to the world that they can’t be fair in cases that involve these issues.”
Lieberman stated that competent lawyers could appeal rulings in their cases if they can prove – by the judge’s social media posts – that they were biased towards their client.
“For example, if a judge expresses anti-gay sentiments online and he ruled against a gay defendant, the lawyer could appeal this as Judicial Misconduct or say that the judge should have recused himself before hearing the case. If a judge wants to rant on social media, he should stop being a judge – and start being an ‘Influencer,’” Lieberman said.
@StacyBrownMedia

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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