More Facebook fails

Based on an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for Facebook posts about a case, political matters, and a fund-raiser for a local church.  In the Matter of Johns (South Carolina Supreme Court November 16, 2016).

The judge’s Facebook account identified him as the probate court judge for Oconee County, and the account and all of his posts were accessible to all members of Facebook.

Z.H.’s parents filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of his estate against the police department.  The case was settled for $2,150,000.  Due to the public nature of the case, the settlement received extensive press coverage.

While the matter was before the probate court, the judge posted on Facebook:  “In the end it’s all about the money.  Always.  Unfortunately, I see it EVERYDAY.”  The judge later added:  “Once ck is in hand, they’ll disappear.”

The judge expressed great regret for his conduct and was sorry for any distress that it may have caused Z.H.’s family.  He recognized that, while he did not mention the estate by name, it would have been clear in the community what he was referring to.

The judge also made extensive political posts on Facebook, including ones in which he appears to endorse a presidential candidate.  He also engaged in fund-raising for a local church in a post.  The judge recognized that it was inappropriate for him to make political posts and to post information about a fund-raiser for a local church.  He has now removed reference to himself as a judge on his Facebook page.

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The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a justice of the peace for Facebook posts that promoted the financial interests of a relative and a former judge, in addition to other misconduct.  Public Reprimand of Uresti and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct October 11, 2016).

The judge has a public Facebook page that identifies her as:  “Yolanda Acuna Uresti – Judge Elect for JP Pct. 4 Pl. 2.”  The page includes her photo and identifies her as a “politician.”  The judge has not used privacy settings that would prevent members of the public from viewing her Facebook page.

While she was a candidate for judicial office, the judge’s Facebook page included links, photos, and posts promoting the real estate business of the judge’s daughter-in-law and promoting a former judge’s business as a wedding officiate.

In her written responses to the Commission’s inquiry, the judge denied she was identified on her Facebook page as a “politician,” despite the fact that her Facebook page expressly included the description of her as a “politician.”  The judge also denied responsibility for the Facebook posts promoting the businesses of her daughter-in-law and the former judge, claiming the posts were “illegal,” “unauthorized,” and the result of someone “hack[ing]” her Facebook page.  When asked, the judge stated she had not reported the “hacking” to the appropriate authorities.  According to the judge, none of the posts promoting these businesses were ever accessible to the general public.  Although the judge claimed to have deleted her Facebook account, it remained accessible as of the date of this sanction.

The Commission notes that at the time of the original posts, the judge was a judicial candidate and not yet a judge and it does not have jurisdiction over the pre-bench conduct of a judicial candidate.  However, it stated, the judge’s failure to remove the posts after she assumed the bench and the fact that the posts continue to be viewable by the public 16 months into her term, even after the Commission brought its concerns to her attention, constitutes a continuing violation of the canons.

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