Ohio Supreme Court Justice (finally) agrees to recuse himself from all new cases in light of pending gubernatorial run

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who last week publicly announced his intent to run for governor, has now announced that he will recuse himself from all new cases coming before the Court. O’Neill previously indicated that he would continue to hear new cases, a position which drew considerable criticism from the state auditor.

O’Neill is currently the sole Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio. He has said that he will remain on the Court until he formally enters the race in February. In the meantime, he will campaign and raise money for his gubernatorial run.

Justice O’Neill may be legally permitted to campaign for governor while still on the bench. In a series of cases over the past decade, the Supreme Court has affirmed the First Amendment rights of judges to solicit campaign funds and publicly state their general positions on policy issues. But First Amendment rights do not parallel professional responsibilities, and running a political campaign from the bench can do untold damage to the judiciary’s legitimacy.  Justice O’Neill is free to seek another elected job, but he should resign from his current one first.

 

Florida: judges can be friends with lawyers on Facebook, because Facebook “friends” aren’t necessarily real friends

I reported last month on a motion to disqualify a Florida state judge from presiding over a case after it was learned that she was Facebook friends with opposing counsel.  The twist on the case was that the counsel in question had previously been a judge himself, and the Facebook connection dated back to a time when both judge and counsel were on the bench.

On Wednesday, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal issued a ten-page order, concluding that disqualification was not necessary.  The key language:

We agree with the Fifth District that “[a] Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.”  We do so for three reasons.  First, as the Kentucky Supreme Court noted, “some people have thousands of Facebook ‘friends.’…

Second, Facebook members often cannot recall every person they have accepted as “friends” or who have accepted them as “friends.”  In a recent case, a student, who had over one thousand Facebook “friends,” did not know he was a Facebook “friend” with another student he was accused of assaulting….

Third many Facebook “friends” are selected based on Facebook’s datamining technology rather than personal interactions.  Facebook data-mines its members’ current list of “friends,” uploaded contact lists from smart phones and computers, emails, names tagged in uploaded photographs, internet groups, networks such as schools and employers, and other publicly or privately available information.  This information is analyzed by proprietary algorithms that predict associations. Facebook then suggests there “People You May Know” as potential “friends.”

This is a thoughtful and sensible opinion, and the pervasive use of scare quotes around the term “friend” is a telling indictment of how distant our human relationships have grown in an age of social media.