Florida Supreme Court To Decide Who Judges Can 'Friend' On Facebook

'Judges Do Not Have The Unfettered Social Freedom Of Teenagers'

A Broward criminal case could set the stage for state law that will dictate who a judge can "friend" on Facebook.

Stemming from a defendant who argued the judge assigned to his case was friends with the prosecutor, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday "began its process of determining whether it has jurisdiction over the case and, if so, should exercise it," a spokesman said.

The Florida Supreme Court still has discretion to accept or decline the case.

If the case is heard, it has massive implications statewide because lawyers and judges "need some guidance from the court," said Eugene Pettis, president-elect of the Florida Bar.

"It's critical for ethical reasons that we clarify the parameters that judges and lawyers must abide by in this new world of modern technology," Pettis said. "All of us must be sensitive to the appearance of impropriety and the word 'friend' may have one meaning in the traditional sense that may be different than a 'friend' in the social media world."

Pierre Domville, of Sunrise, is charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child. His attorney filed a motion to have Judge Andrew Siegel disqualified because he was friends on Facebook with assistant state attorney Nicole Alvarez, who is no longer with the department.

"He felt he would not be able to get a trial that would not involve some form of prejudice," said his criminal defense attorney Denzle Latty, of Fort Lauderdale.

The judge denied the motion to recuse himself and the case was appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which ordered the judge to remove himself in September, but also asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up the larger issue.

"Judges do not have the unfettered social freedom of teenagers," a state's District Court of Appeal judge wrote in January. "Maintenance of the appearance of impartiality requires the avoidance of entanglements and relationships that compromise that appearance. ... A person who accepts the responsibility of being a judge must also accept limitations on personal freedom."

Domville's case is now pending in Broward Circuit Court and the case has been reassigned to Judge Marc Gold.

"This is huge because at the end of the day there are judges who are friends with not just prosecutors, but defense attorneys," Latty said.

Domville was worried "if the judge and prosecutor are friends on Facebook, where does that leave me? He did not feel like he would be able to get a fair shake," Latty said.

lhuriash@tribune.com or 954-572-2008 ___

(c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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