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Still no clear ruling on judges and social media

The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee has given sparse guidance for Maryland state judges who are interested in expanding their electronic footprint through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The June 12 published opinion warned judges to “proceed cautiously.” The opinion examined what other states do, noting that in some states judges are prohibited from friending lawyers who do or might appear before them in court. Realistically, the important concern for a judge is whether the existence of an online friendship could create the appearance of impropriety.  Ordinarily, that would be a simple matter. However, Maryland circuit court judges have one special circumstance that must be considered:  judicial elections. Some judges are initially appointed by the governor to fill vacancies. After that appointment, though, judges in Maryland are forced to run for office — that is, they must be re-elected to the position. I think most lawyers in Maryland think this is a terrible idea. Here’s why: -- Judges have better things to do than run for office. -- Judges would ideally be insulated from politics, allowing them the freedom to make rulings without political ramifications. Judicial elections are a major step in the wrong direction, despite the contention that these are non-partisan elections. -- If you’re looking to avoid the appearance of impropriety, judicial elections are the wrong answer. In order to succeed, judges must schmooze with voters, raise money from people, organizations and corporations and then somehow not be influenced (overtly or subconsciously) when those supporters have cases in front of the judge. That’s ridiculous, and quite probably naïve.

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