According to an article in the ABA Journal, a Texas judge who has been admonished by an ethics panel claims that she did nothing wrong by posting about trials she was overseeing. The judge claims the information she posted contained only publicly available information and that she continued to remain impartial.
The admonition requires the Galveston Judge of the 405th Judicial District to obtain four hours of instruction with a mentor regarding the proper and ethical use of social media by judges. The 5+ page opinion was issued April 20, 2015. According to the admonition, the judge maintained a Facebook page identifying her as a judge and featuring a photograph of her in her judicial robes. It was a publicly accessible page.
The admonition goes on to set forth a number of Facebook posts authored by the judge both before and during trials before her, despite her instructions to the jury that their use of Facebook to discuss the case was "absolutely forbidden." One of the posts even included a link to a news article about the trial pending before her. That article contained references to information that the judge had previously instructed the jury to disregard.
Another post referenced evidence that had not yet been admitted as an exhibit or evidence at the trial. That evidence, although ultimately admitted by the judge, was the subject of an objection by defense counsel. The judge was ultimately removed from that case and a mistrial was granted. The judge argued that her intent was to promote transparency and to encourage the public to come to watch the proceedings in her courtroom.
Despite negative media attention about the judge's conduct in the first case, she continued to post on Facebook about cases before her, including a post about completing the sentencing of a "very challenging" defendant.
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct cited Canons 3B(10) and 4A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution in its determination that by posting the comments on her Facebook page, the judge "cast reasonable doubt on her own impartiality" and violated her own admonition to the jury. They concluded that:
The comments went beyond providing an explanation of the procedures of the court and highlighted evidence that had yet to be introduced at trial. Judge Slaughter’s Facebook activities interfered with her judicial duties in that, as a direct result of her conduct, a motion to recuse was filed and granted requiring the judge to be removed from the Wieseckel case. The judge’s recusal then led to the granting of a motion for mistrial so that the case could be retried in its entirety before another judge. Judge Slaughter’s conduct in the case was clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties and cast public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice in light of the considerable negative media attention given the case and her posting. The Commission therefore concludes that Judge Slaughter’s conduct constituted a willful and persistent violations of Canons 3B(10) and 4A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, Section 1-a(6) of the Texas Constitution.
Social media can be an exceptional tool for communication, and could be a good way for this judge to accomplish what she claims was her aim - educating the public about the court system. Unfortunately, the focus has now become these ill-advised Facebook posts which call into question her ability to be impartial.