In Madison, Wisconsin a Judge accepting a litigant’s friend request was enough to warrant a new trial by a different Judge.
In 2016, a mother sought sole custody and child support in a modification action against the father. After a two-day evidentiary trial, the Judge gave the parties 10 days to submit proposals on how the Court should rule. After these submissions, but prior to the Court ruling the Judge accepted the mother’s Facebook friend request. This was unknown to the father.
While awaiting a decision, the mother liked 18 of the Judge’s “Facebook posts and commented on two of them.” However, the Judge did not like or comment on any of the mother’s posts, though he did not deny reading them.
In July, the Judge ruled in favor of the mother. That same day, the guardian ad litem for the child learned that the mother had posted on Facebook that “the Honorable Judge granted everything we requested” and then discovered the mother and Judge were Facebook friends.
The father filed a motion to reconsider, arguing the Facebook frienship created the appearance of impropriety. The Court ruled that he’d made up phis mind prior to the request and denied the father’s motion.
The Wisconsin Appellate Court found that these circumstances clearly created the appearance of impropriety.
The mother’s friend request, and the Judge’s acceptance just prior to a decision “conveys the impression that [the mother] was in a special position to influence [the] Judge’s ultimate decision — a position not available to individuals that he had not ‘friended,’ such as [the father].
The appellate court did state that the “decision does not reach the merits of… [the] ultimate decision on [the mother’s] motion, and we recognize the parties will be required to relitigate their custody and physical placement issues.”
Matthew Thompson is a Family Law attorney and encourages you NOT to be Facebook friends with your Judge.