Aug 12, 2012
SEE COMMENTS FOR AN UPDATE TO THIS POST.
On Friday (Aug. 10) the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications was slated to consider a complaint filed against Butler County District Judge Jan Satterfield over her "liking" a post on the Facebook page (removed, but cached here) of Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet's re-election campaign, according to the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette (AP version here).
This is one of only a handful of cases where judges have run into issues through their use of social media. But such situations are likely to become more common as such activity continues to grow.
The post on Herzet's campaign Facebook page said, "Soooooo… I was thinking that we could get to 200 likes by 6/18. That’s only 88 more. Wouldn’t that be cool?" Judge Satterfield was among 36 people who "liked" this comment. (Herzet apparently reached this number of "likes" for his page; the catched version tallies 237. He also won the Republican primary Aug. 7, and has no Democratic opponent.)
The complaint against Judge Satterfield was filed by Lee White, a former Butler County resident who now lives in California. He received a letter from the commission stating that his complaint would be included on its Aug. 10 agenda, according to the Gazette.
While much of the hand-wringing over the impact of social networking sites has focused on jurors' activities, this is not the first time that social networking activity by judges has arisen as an issue.
In 2010, Cuyahoga County, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold was removed from a murder case after 80 pseudonymous comments on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, including some comments in connection with coverage of cases pending before Judge Saffold, were tied to the the judge's personal email account.
Judge Saffold's daughter claimed that she -- not her mother -- had made the posts, and Judge Saffold and her daughter sued the newspaper and the company that operates the newspaper's website. The Saffolds settled with the web company in December 2010, and withdrew their claims against the newspaper.
Judges' use of social media is clearly an emerging issue for which they are no clear standards. For example, while ethics bodies in Florida have decided that it is per se improper for judges and attorneys to be "friends" on social networking sites, while bodies in California, Massachusetts, Ohio and South Carolina have found that such online friendships are not improper per se, they can be improper in certain circumstances.
It is unclear what the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications will do with the complaint against Judge Satterfield.
But it is clear that, just as jurors are now routinely admonished to limit their use of social media and Internet during trial, judges must also restrict their use of these sites to maintain their image of judicial independence and impartiality.