Based on a stipulation, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a former commissioner and barred him from receiving an assignment, appointment, or reference of work from any California state court for (1) “egregious” posts and re-posts on his public Facebook page and (2) representing to his presiding judge and the Commission that he had taken the posts down when that was not true, although he believed the posts were no longer publicly viewable. In the Matter Concerning Gianquinto, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance August 22, 2018). The Commission noted that, because the commissioner had retired, a censure and bar was the strongest discipline it could impose on him.
In 2016 and 2017, the commissioner maintained a public Facebook page that identified him as “Jj Gianquinto,” stated that he “works at Kern County,” and included photos of him recognizable by the public, but did not identify him as a commissioner.
In May 2017, the presiding judge wrote the commissioner that there was a “significant concern” about the “content” of a number of his posts and the “impression” a member of the public might have on reviewing them. In a written response, the commissioner stated that he had deleted the posts, had refrained from sharing similar posts, and had “designated my Facebook account as ‘private’ which means only my friends can view any future posts.” On June 28, the presiding judge privately reprimanded the commissioner in writing.
The commissioner self-reported to the Commission, repeating that he had deleted the posts, “refrained from sharing additional posts of a political nature,” and “designated my Facebook account as private.”
However, despite his representations to the presiding judge and to the Commission, until at least August 2, 2017, the commissioner’s Facebook page remained public and 6 of the posts were still on the page. Although the commissioner had tried to make the changes, his “unfamiliarity with the technology resulted in the changes not taking effect as intended. When alerted to the fact that the posts were still visible to the public, the commissioner immediately sought further assistance, deleted the offending posts, and increased the privacy settings on his Facebook profile.”
Reproducing screenshots of many of the posts, the Commission decision describes at least 45 posts or reposts that it found were “egregious” and “the type of conduct that inherently undermines public confidence in the judiciary and that brings the judicial office into disrepute.” The commissioner’s page reflected, among other things, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Native American sentiment, anti-gay marriage and transgender sentiment, anti-liberal and anti-Democrat sentiment, anti-California sentiment, opposition to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accusations against President Barack Obama, a lack of respect for the federal justice system, and contempt for the poor.
A 2-part article analyzing the advisory opinions and discipline decisions on social media and judicial ethics was published in the spring and summer 2017 issues of the Judicial Conduct Reporter. Part 1 was a general introduction to the topic and a discussion of issues related to judicial duties: “friending” attorneys, disqualification and disclosure, ex parte communications and independent investigations, and comments on pending cases. Part 2 covered off-bench conduct: conduct that undermines public confidence in the judiciary, commenting on issues, abusing the prestige of office, providing legal advice, disclosing non-public information, charitable activities, political activities, and campaign conduct. Summaries of advisory opinions and cases up-dating the 2-part article are available here.