Judge Is Reprimanded For Poor Social Media Etiquette
Proper social media etiquette is important, especially when you are in a position of power and your Facebook profile will likely be viewed quite frequently. It is best to keep a low profile and not discuss professional manners in updates, especially to public groups and pages — no matter how tempting.
California Superior Court Judge Jeff Ferguson of Orange County, California, made the mistake of sharing information publicly that he should have kept to himself and it led to his admonishment. Ferguson’s negative opinion of a particular prosecutor running for judgeship was made public after he decided to turn to Facebook to disclose a supposed sexual relationship between the prosecutor and a defense attorney, hastily typing his thoughts onto a shared page. Ferguson’s comment was made specifically in response to an April 2016 Facebook post made by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle. Schatzle wrote that Steiner “uses his office for sex and yet many aren’t concerned, crazy politics!” Judge Scott Steiner had been censured back in 2014 after it was discovered he was having sex with two of his former law students in his chambers. So, he has had a well-known history of indiscretion.
Ferguson had supported in the election and evidently didn’t approve of her poor etiquette. His response was posted onto a Facebook page that could have easily been noticed by members of the North Orange County Bar Association. According to the admonishment, the judge made the claims with “a knowing or reckless disregard for the truth” and his “post was not only potentially injurious to the candidate, but also undermined public respect for the judiciary and the integrity of the electoral process.” Ferguson’s exact words were: “Karen Shatzle [sic] has sex with defense lawyer whike [sic] shw [sic] is DA on his cases and nobody cares. Interesting politics.” The judge removed the post after Schatzle responded with a somewhat threatening slight, saying that judicial ethics regulators “would love to know about your blogging!” Schatzle denied ever having an intimate relationship with the defense lawyer while the two shared a courtroom on several cases together.
According to his attorney, Paul Meyer, Ferguson’s response was posted quickly (too quick for auto-correct, apparently) and late at night. The post was up for only a few minutes before he noticed Schatzle’s retort and decided to remove it. He also said that Judge Ferguson apologizes for his poor decision. According to the California Commission on Judicial Performance, Ferguson later acknowledged “he was wrong to write the post, recognized that it fell outside the bounds of professionalism and the decorum expected of a bench officer, and apologized for his conduct.” He was admonished by the comission, which also cited him in a separate matter for being Facebook friends with three lawyers who appeared before him in court on numerous occasions. He took the attorneys off of his friends list after the commission contacted him about the bias
Oh, the drama created by social media! Word to the wise, if in a public position, it’s best to maintain proper etiquette. Or, just stay away.