Even though California is the home of Facebook, Twitter and Google+, California judicial officers are only now starting to tweet. (If you find any who do, please let me know.) By contrast, sitting judges at the state trial, appellate and Supreme Court levels in Southern states actively tweet. Their posts are often political (possibly because state court judges must stand for re-election), public service notices and personal (family, music, sports, religious).
Judge Burdette of Kentucky tweets funny quotes from litigants who appear before him:
- “I was drugged! The meth I was snorting was a funny color…but i snorted anyway, blasted Ed,he pranked me.“ and
- ANY STATEMENT? “I didn’t snort cocaine Judge, unless my wife switched it” U WERE SNORTING SOMETHING ELSE? “got me there, I only snort oxy”
- YOU ARE FACING 5 YEARS FOR 20 BAD CHECKS, ANYTHING YOU WANNA SAY? “Judge, I’m glad I ran out of checks.”
By contrast, the vast majority of judges, especially federal judges, have opted out of social media. I personally know judges who closed their social media accounts once they were appointed. However, social media is the means by which more and more Americans get their news and communicate today.
By opting out, judges (i) reduce public transparency, (ii) miss out on the opportunity to educate the public and engender trust in the judicial system and (iii) learn what issues the public cares about. While judges should refrain from posting about pending matters, there is no reason why they cannot publicly show their human side and community involvement.
For example, 44 year-old Judge Stephen Dillard on the Georgia Court of Appeals has tweeted over 6,000 times and has nearly 3,000 followers. His posts range from wondering aloud if Tesla gives discounts to government employees to publicly disagreeing with a proposal to require US Supreme Court judges to stand for election. (In fairness, Georgia state court judges have to stand for re-election, so they arguably need social media accounts for public awareness and their campaigns.)
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has tweeted over 600 times on social and public interest issues like “There’s nothing compassionate about deporting children w/o ensuring they aren’t sent back to human traffickers” and “Congrats to UNT-Dallas for becoming Texas’ 10th law school!”
Also, if judges do not control the message, they risk having others do so for them, such as what happened to Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. of Orlando, Florida, when a member of the public created a Twitter account with 549 of his alleged quotes. Some of the out of context nuggets include “There was a reason why you decided to extend Mr. Ashton the courtesy of extending your middle finger” and “Can you read and write?”.
Here are some of judges who tweet- note their large number of followers:
|Name||Court||Followers||Twitter Handle||Type of Posts|
|Don Willett||Texas Supreme Court||12400||@justicewillett||Personal and professional and political|
|Vicky Kolakowski||Alameda County Superior Court||843||@vkolakowski||LGBT and sports|
|Nelson Wolff||Bexar County Texas||718||@Judge_wolff||Personal and professional|
|Anne Elizabeth Barnes||Presiding Judge – Georgia Court of Appeals||1008||@JudgeAnneBarnes||Personal and political|
|Rhonda Wood||Arkansas Court of Appeals & Justice-elect Arkansas Supreme Court||595||@JudgeRhondaWood||Personal and political|
|Jeff Burdette||Chief Regional Circuit Judge- Kentucky||1056||@arbiterjeff||Personal and quotes for litigants in front of him|
|Pamela Barker||Cuyahoga Common Pleas- Cleveland Ohio||656||@JudgePamBarker||Personal and campaign photos of her at community events|
|Bill Hamrick||Coweta Circuit- Georgia||614||@JudgeHamrick||Personal and sports|
|Liles Burke||Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals||932||@JudgeLilesBurke||Personal and political and religious|
|Carlo Key||Bexar County – San Antonio Texas||774||@Judge_Key||Political and campaign tweets|
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just what I could put together in 3 hours on Twitter by searching for Judge in the name field. The number of followers was accurate on the date I added them to the list. It might be higher or lower now.
This is not to say that all federal judges are off social media. For example, District Court Judge Richard Kopf in Nebraska ran the Hercules and the Umpire blog, where he invited the public to call/email him. He not only allowed comments but responded to them. Sadly, Judge Kopf stopped posting in July 2015 stating that many at the court thought that the blog had become an embarrassment for the court. But he was adamant that “I have not been asked to stop blogging by anyone including my Chief Judge, the Chief Judge of the Eighth Circuit, or anyone else up to and including big wigs in Washington. If anything, I have continually received encouragement to keep blogging, especially from my Chief Judge, Laurie Smith Camp.”
Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal joined Twitter at the start of 2015. On his Twitter profile, he described his reason for joining as: “would you want a traffic court judge who’s never driven a car? why should mag. judges be any different when it come to tech. no endorsements blah blah blah.” So far, his posts have been about sports, education and his alma mater, MIT. Judge Grewal’s joining on Twitter even warranted an article in The Recorder and San Jose Mercury News.
Shirish Gupta is an award-winning mediator and arbitrator with JAMS. He’s active on social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) and is doing his best to get the Judiciary and the Bar on board.
Book a mediation with Shirish.