This group explores the risk presented by unfettered postings into social networks. The risk is serious, pervasive, and increasing. Existing policies are unlikely to cover evolving situations, but even assuming existing policies are in place, enforcement can be problematic. The group will gather publicly posted policies and develop a policy template that includes best practices and talking points.
I think there is a difference between the perception generated in an open network like Facebook or Linkedin versus a closed network like Martindale-Hubbell Connected and our competitors. When you have an online population of lawyers who understand that judges and lawyers can be connected virtually or in real life and still maintain objectivity the perception argument loses ground. To the average Joe out there on Facebook there is more of a risk that such a connection will be construed as inappropriate. Overall, I think the FL committee missed the mark and are being overly cautious. My great hope is that other jurisdictions won't follow their misguided lead - it would be a huge step backwards in the progress we are making as a legal industry online.
While the Florida court decision signals one direction courts can take in addressing the friending issue, I don't think it is by any means definitive.
For instance, in October the South Carolina Judiciary Department came to the opposite conclusion. While acknowledging the need for public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, the opinion also noted Canon 2(A), Rule 501 of the state code stating that complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.
Giving weight to this Canon the judge held that "Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge. Thus, a judge may be a member of a social networking site such as Facebook." (www.judicial.state.sc.us/.../displayadvopin.cfm)
This is an interesting and far more progressive application of ethics rules to "friending" than the Florida opinion, and I believe it will likely carry more weight as lawyers and judges become more comfortable with social media.
To Tobias' interesting point regarding social media showing the perception of inappropriate relationships vs actual inappropriate relationships -- this too is starting to happen and I think poses extremely interesting questions.
ALM recently reported on such a case in Georgia in which a judge stepped down after 17 years on the bench after it became known that he had "friended" a defendant and surfaced communications revealed that communications between them pointed to actual inappropriate influence. The moral to the story: Friending judges should be OK on its face -- but its what you do with that friend that will determine how appropriate the relationship is.