A Florida divorce case is getting quite a bit of attention. According to an opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida, the judge in this case, Florida Judge Linda D. Schoonover, sent a friend request to one of the parties, Sandra Choice. Upon advice of counsel, Chace did not accept the friend request.
The attorney for Chace later alleged that when she did not accept Judge Schoonover's friend request, the judge retaliated by giving her an unequal portion of the marital debt, plus gave her husband, Robert Loisel Jr., a larger alimony award.
The Court of Appeals decision, Case No. 5d13-4449, overturned the prior order that found that the judge could hear the case. In other words, when the attorney for Chace asked that Judge Schoonover be disqualified from the case, the judge refused to do so.
The Court of Appeals decision found that: "The 'friend' request placed the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case, or risk offending the judge by not accepting the 'friend' request." Therefore, the judge was ultimately disqualified from hearing the case on appeal.
Did the rebuffed friend request on Facebook really lead to a bad result for Chace in this case? No outside observer wants to believe this could be possible. However, the appearance alone was enough for the judge to be disqualified.
Obviously, this is just a Florida decision. But the obvious implication of this case is that parties would be wise not to try and friend a judge assigned to hear their case on a social network site and vice versa. Otherwise, the appearance of impropriety could become a real issue.
If you are in the midst family law matter, you may want to contact the Stange Law Firm, PC. We are a firm that focuses exclusively on family law. We also have extensive experience in dealing with social media and in terms of advising clients on when it may be appropriate to request a change of judge.
Sources: ABA Journal, "Judge removed from divorce case after sending one party a Facebook friend request," Stephanie Francis Ward, January 29, 2014; and Strategist FindLaw Business Blog, "Judge DQ'd for Ex Parte Facebook 'Friending' of Litigant," William Peacock, January 28, 2014.