Does Being a ‘Facebook Friend’ Rise to the Legal Definition of a Friend?

What constitutes a conflict of interest in the digital age? That is the question currently before the Florida Supreme Court in a case where a social media connection raises a concern over how much weight a ‘Facebook friend’ has in relation to a ‘real life friend’.

From the National Center for State Courts:

“The Florida Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments this summer regarding Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein v. United Services Automobile Association.

In 2017, Herssein and Herssein discovered that the Miami-Dade County judge hearing this case is a Facebook friend with a lawyer from U.S. Automobile, and the law firm filed a motion to disqualify the judge. Herssein and Herssein argued that the Facebook friendship violates Florida’s judicial ethics and conduct codes, but the trial court and the 3rd District Court of Appeals disagreed.

“An assumption that all Facebook `friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking,” the appellate judges wrote.

In a different case, the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals disqualified a judge from a criminal case because he was a Facebook friend with a prosecutor.

With two appellate courts ruling differently on this, the Florida Supreme Court decided this issue needs clarification.”

A ruling from the court is expected to be released in the Fall, and it will likely guide and influence similar cases elsewhere in the country.

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