Another Facebook fail

Based on an agreement, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a  judge for sharing partisan posts on Facebook.  Lammey (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct November 15, 2019).  The judge also agreed to complete, either in person or online, a judicial ethics program or other educational program addressing ethical issues and the use of social media; to refrain from making any substantially similar comments or disseminating any substantially similar social media posts; and to keep his social media platforms on the private setting.

The judge shared on his Facebook accounts images that, the Board found, were partisan and clearly violated the code of judicial conduct.  The images were about issues such as the credibility of certain federal agencies, professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem, the effect of undocumented immigrants on the economy, opposition to certain positions in the Democratic party platform, bias in favor of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and opposition to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Black Lives Matter movement, media bias, fatal shootings by police officers, anti-Jihadist sentiment, transgender bathrooms and boys in girl’s locker rooms, and undocumented immigrants voting in Virginia.

The Board found that “after a complete and thorough investigation and under the limited and specific facts of this case, . . . there is no proof that [the judge] displayed any actual bias, prejudice, or impartiality toward any litigant that appeared before [him] . . . .”  However, the judge acknowledged that reasonable minds could easily have perceived “the dissemination of these types of articles and images on [his] social media platform” as prejudice or bias.

Screenshots of the Facebook posts shared by the judge were submitted by the organization Latino Memphis with a complaint in response to a newspaper article titled, “Memphis Judge Posts Facebook link to Holocaust denier’s Essay calling Immigrants ‘Foreign Mud.’”  The article was based on an interview the judge gave to a newspaper reporter about his policy of requiring undocumented immigrants to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of probation.  The article references an essay the judge shared on Facebook by David Cole, titled “Stop with the Golems, Already.”  The judge’s post commented, “interesting read . . . some four-letter words though.”  Cole, who is Jewish, argued that Jewish Americans “should not bring in people who want to do them harm,” saying, “In a perfect world, these rabbinical Rain Men would finally get the f*** over the Holocaust and end their war of hostility against the west.”  The Memphis Bar Association also filed a complaint based on the widespread media reports about the judge’s posts and his methods of dealing with immigrants.

The Board stated that any issues about the judge’s treatment of undocumented immigrants would be resolved by the  Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Board’s letter noted that it was “abundantly clear” that the judge had not written the essay; Cole “does not describe all immigrants as ‘mud,’” just those who want to do Jewish people harm; and its investigation revealed that Cole was not a Holocaust denier.  The Board also concluded that there was no proof that the judge made statements that were anti-Semitic, racist, or anti-immigration.

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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 ReporterPart 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 on the Center for Judicial Ethics web-site.

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