The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered a Galveston County judge to enroll in a four-hour class on the "proper and ethical use of social media by judges," after she created Facebook posts about her trials.
According to court documents, when a trial began in 2014 in a high profile child abuse case, the judge instructed jurors to not discuss the case with “anyone”.
She told jurors: “During the trial of the case, as I mentioned before, you cannot talk to anyone.
So make sure that you don’t talk to anyone. Again, this is by any means of communication. So no texting, e-mailing, talking person to person or on the phone or Facebook. Any of that is absolutely forbidden.”
The defendant in the case was accused of keeping his nine year old son in a six foot by eight foot wooden crate.
The judge however didn’t take her own advice. The judge authored Facebook posts which talked about the "Boy in the Box" case. She told the media that her posts about this case and others that she posted about were unbiased.
She said: "I will always conduct my proceedings in a fair and impartial way. The Commission's opinion appears to unduly restrict transparency and openness in government and in our judiciary. Everything I posted was publicly available information."
The judge posted this on the first day of trial: "After we finished Day 1 of the case called the 'Boy in the Box' case, trustees from the jail came in and assembled the actual 6x8 'box' inside the courtroom!"
The “box” however, had not yet been entered into evidence.
This judge was subsequently removed from the case which ended in a mistrial.
(The defendant was eventually acquitted of unlawful-restraint-of-a-child charges.)
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded that the judge's posts cast "reasonable doubt" on her impartiality for trials over which she was presiding. The Commission wrote in its ruling:
Judges have a duty to decide every case fairly and impartially. Judicial independence, impartiality and integrity must be seen in order for the public to have confidence in the legal system.
Despite her contention that the information she provided was public information, Judge X cast reasonable doubt upon her own impartiality and violated her own admonition to jurors by turning to social media to publicly discuss cases pending in her court, giving rise to a legitimate concern that she would not be fair or impartial in the case or in other high-profile cases.
According to the judge, the Facebook page was set up with the intent that it would be “the most efficient way to fulfill [her] campaign promise and [her] own goals of educating the public about our courts.”
However, the panel disagreed, stating that the comments went beyond providing an explanation of the procedures of the court and highlighted evidence that had yet to be introduced at trial.
You see. Even judges are not immune to the “pull” of social media, and, even judges can get themselves in hot water by saying too much in the wrong forum.
Personal injury victims are no different. Remember this: You post, you lose. Just don’t do it. Just say “no”.