Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for sharing a “GoFundMe” account on her Facebook page. In re McCroskey, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 21, 2023). The Commission noted that “GoFundMe is a for-profit crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for events ranging from life events such as celebrations and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses.”
The judge has had a Facebook account since before being elected to the bench. At the time of the posts at issue, her Facebook page clearly identified her as a district court judge.
On January 14, 2022, with the comment “She’s one of a kind,” the judge shared to her Facebook page a “GoFundMe” account for a woman that stated it was to “Help [ ] cover her medical expenses!”
The judge explained to the Commission that she had shared the GoFundMe post not to solicit donations, but “to update local friends about someone who was ill and had moved out of the area” and that she had acted on her own, not in her official capacity. The judge did not believe that she was not violating the code, but accepted the Commission’s determination that a reasonable person would view a GoFundMe post as a request for monetary donations and, therefore, a solicitation that is prohibited by the code.
The judge’s Facebook page also had several posts promoting or advertising specific local businesses.
- In October 2020, the judge shared a photo of a bride and groom with the text: “Thank you Nissa: Floral Traditions, for the beautiful bouquet and boutonnier [sic]! You are so talented!” The judge also subsequently shared this as a memory.
- In May 2021, the judge shared a post from Floral Traditions that highlighted merchandise available for Mother’s Day. One of the photos had a caption that read: “Order for Mother’s Day. We deliver!”
- In October 202, the judge created a post that included a photo of an arm with a bracelet and sweater and text that read, “It is awesome to be able to wear local purchases from years ago and know they are still in business!!!! Bracelet, circa 2012 Shanty. Sweater and jeans, JB Boutique, September.”
The judge explained that she made the posts “simply to express her pride in local businesses that were able to weather the pandemic.” For example, she stated that she had expressed her appreciation of the flower shop because she had been relieved that they were able to find flowers for her daughter’s wedding during the pandemic. The judge also noted that there are no other flower shops in her community and that she received nothing in exchange for any of her posts.
Emphasizing that “the application of the Code to social media is an evolving area of law,” the Commission did not find that these posts violated the prohibition on abusing the prestige of her judicial office. However, it did discuss “potential problems” with posts by judges promoting local businesses. It explained:
The advent of social media has not altered the Code of Judicial Conduct, but the reach of social media and its interactive nature amplifies and thus alters the impact of judges’ comments posted on social media. It is, for example, unlikely that a reasonable person would conclude that a judge was lending the prestige of her office to a local business if she commented in real life to friends or work associates that she had a wonderful meal last weekend at a specific restaurant, even though everyone listening knew she was a judge. The same comment posted on social media can link to the business in question and can be seen by hundreds or thousands of people, especially the people who are “friends” on that social media platform and who can respond and give positive reinforcement to that judge for all to see. Social media has been with us for almost two decades – the platform in question is about 19 years old and has 2.96 billion users. Yet it is still an evolving form of social interaction, and the antecedents of the Code of Judicial Conduct go into antiquity, far before the internet was conceived.
. . . The Code is not only an enforceable set of standards, but is aspirational in nature, directing judges to be conscious that they should strive to maintain public trust and confidence in their independence, integrity, and impartiality in all their actions . . . .”
Thus, the Commission advised, judges should be “particularly thoughtful in what they post online.”