Can Judges and Lawyers Be Facebook “Friends”? It Depends Where You Are.

An attorney can be friends with a judge IRL (in real life). Now they can be Facebook friends too–at least in the Third District.

The Third District Court of Appeal, recognizing the evolving influence and role of social media in our society, has held that a judge should not be disqualified from a case for merely being Facebook “friends” with counsel for a party.

In Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A., v. United Services Automobile Association, 3D17-1421 (Fla. 3d DCA Aug. 23, 2017), the petitioners filed a writ of prohibition, seeking to disqualify the trial court judge because a potential witness and a potential defendant was listed on the judge’s personal Facebook page as a “friend.”

This issue has nearly a decade of history in Florida law.  In 2009, a Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion said that a judge may not add lawyers who may appear before him as “friends” on social networking sites, and vice versa.  In 2012, the Fourth District relied on the JEAC Opinion and granted a writ of prohibition, disqualifying a judge because he was Facebook “friends” with the prosecutor, Domville v. State, 103 So. 3d 184 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).

Then, in 2014, the Fifth District granted a writ of prohibition because the trial judge “reached out” to a party in a dissolution case while litigation was pending and tried to “friend” her on Facebook.”  Chace v. Loisel, 170 So. 3d 802 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014).  While clearly what the trial court did was wrong, and factually different than the issue in Domville, the Chace court went on to express “serious reservations about the court’s rationale in Domville.”  The Fifth District said that “there is no difference between a Facebook ‘friend’ and any other friendship a judge might have,” and that “Domville’s logic would require disqualification in cases involving an acquaintance of a judge.”  The Fifth District also noted that “A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.”

This is the legal landscape in which the Third District decided Herssein.  Preliminarily, the court recognized that merely being “friends” in the conventional sense has been historically insufficient to warrant disqualification of a judge.  It then latched onto the Fifth District’s statement regarding the closeness of Facebook “friends,” applying this rationale for three reasons:

  • “Some people have thousands of Facebook ‘friends,'”
  • “Facebook members often cannot recall every person they have accepted as ‘friends’ or who have accepted them as ‘friends,'” and
  • “many Facebook ‘friends’ are selected based upon Facebook’s data-mining technology rather than personal interactions.”

The Fifth District noted that Domville had been decided many years prior, in a quickly-evolving technological landscape–stated simply, times have changed.  It certified conflict with Domville, and denied the petition, holding that merely being Facebook “friends” with someone no longer demonstrates closeness of a relationship.

So where does that leave us practicing attorneys?

  • In the Third District, whether you are Facebook “friends” with a judge is irrelevant to whether your actual relationship is sufficiently close to warrant disqualification.  See Herssein.
  • In the Fourth District, being Facebook “friends” with a judge is sufficient on its own to warrant a disqualification.  See Domville.
  • The Fifth District’s dicta suggests it would side with the Third District, but it has issued nothing precedential upon which to rely.  See Chace.
  • Neither the First nor Second Districts have spoken on the issue.

Rules Governing Electronic Appendices and Records Amended to Ease Readability

THE NEWS

Effective Sunday, October 1, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court’s amendments to the appellate rules go into effect.  The amendments are largely designed to update the rules to comport with the realities of producing and easily reading electronic appendices and records.

THE TRAP FOR THE UNWARY PRACTITIONER

Rule 9.220 is amended, adding new requirements for an appendix.  Now, an appendix must:

  • contain a coversheet that meets specific requirements for content;
  • contain a certificate of service;
  • generally be filed as a separate, single PDF file;
  • be properly indexed and consecutively paginated, with the cover sheet being page 1 and the page numbers matching the PDF reader display;
  • “be bookmarked, consistently with the index, such that each bookmark states the date, name of the document which it references, and directs to the first page of that document;”
  • have bookmarks “viewable in a separate window.”

Further, no condensed transcripts are permitted in an appendix without leave of court.  The rule also changes the format for paper appendices, when so authorized.

The Fourth District has warned that it will strike any appendix that does not comply with the amended rules when they go into effect on October 1, 2017.

The Fourth District has already issued an email to all 4th DCA eDCA Filers, stating “Effective October 1, 2017, electronic appendices which do not comply with the amended Rule 9.220 will be stricken.”  So be ready and be compliant!

THE SUBSTANTIVE AMENDMENTS SUMMARIZED

9.020 – Adds a definition for “E-Filing System Docket.”

9.120 – Details the format and contents of the documents to be transmitted from the district courts to the supreme court in situations where a party is seeking discretionary review

9.141 – Removes the clerk’s exception that allowed it to avoid having to repaginate or reindex a record from a previously prepared record into a record for a collateral or postconviction criminal case.

9.200 – The record shall now be submitted as a PDF document, uploaded to the e-filing system docket, and available for download to attorneys and parties who have registered for access to the system.  The appellate court may direct the lower clerk to submit a replacement record when an original record is found to be noncompliant with the technical requirements of rule 9.200(d).

9.220 – See above.

Rules 9.160 and  9.180 contain only minor changes in terms to reflect that their respective documents are “transmitted” rather than “sent” or “filed.”

BONUS TIP FOR TRIAL LAWYERS


The fact that the new rules forbid condensed transcripts in an Appendix should send a strong signal to trial lawyers not to file them with trial courts in general. Appellate judges do a lot of reading, and citing to a condensed transcript makes it that much harder for them to find what you are talking about. They just don’t track well or lend themselves to good notetaking on an iPad or other electronic screen. And since it is all being e-filed, there is much less of an issue with killing trees. If you are filing a transcript with the trial court, file the full transcript. The appellate judges will be a lot happier when reviewing your record. And that just makes it easier for everyone to focus on the merits rather than searching for the right record cite.

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

Florida State Courts have come a long way since the supreme court started this e-filing journey in 2013.  There have been a few hiccups, especially with the appellate courts, but the appellate rules are really starting to come into their own.

That said, with any new rule amendment comes new opportunities for errors to be made.  If you have a case pending or about to be pending before a Florida appellate court, give DPW Legal a call so we can help you avoid any of the pitfalls.

 

How Are Deadlines Affected When the Courts Close Due to Weather?

Matthew DPW Legal Appeals Court Deadlines

Hurricane Matthew is looking pretty creepy in this NASA Earth Sciences image.
Don’t let Matthew ruin your appeal!

Three Florida Appellate Courts have announced closures so far due to Hurricane Matthew. The Third and Fourth Fourth District Courts of Appeal will be closed from 1 pm today through Friday October 7th, while the Fifth District will be closed Thursday and Friday. The Florida Supreme Court aggregates announcements about emergency closures for the entire state court system on its emergency page.

What is the effect of a court closure on deadlines and argument? Certainly, argument is cancelled and will have to be rescheduled. But what about regular deadlines? It appears an emergency closure does not count as a “Court Holiday” under Florida Rules of Judicial Administration Rule 2.514(4)(B) — the Courts are not calling it a “holiday,” and doing so probably has personnel implications that Court administration doesn’t want to deal with. However, the Florida Supreme Court generally issues administrative orders extending deadlines in the affected counties, and likely will do so in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The orders generally state that the Supreme Court is intending to “equitably relieve parties in all pending cases by extending legal time limits that they otherwise would have been unable to meet due to the emergency.” See, e.g., AOSC16-23, In re EMERGENCY REQUEST TO EXTEND TIME PERIODS UNDER ALL FLORIDA RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY IN THE THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT [.pdf]. And if the emergency further impedes the attorney or client, then the trial court is directed to resolve the claim “case-by-case basis when a party demonstrates that the lack of compliance with requisite time periods was directly attributable to this
emergency and that equitable remedy is required.” Id. I wouldn’t worry about a deadline for filing a brief — the extension will either be automatically granted by an administrative order, or the Court will be receptive to a motion for leave to accept a late-filed brief.

But what about deadlines that are not normally allowed to be extended? Rule 1.090 states that, even for good cause, a Court:

may not extend the time for making a motion for new trial, for rehearing, or
to alter or amend a judgment; making a motion for relief from a judgment under
rule 1.540(b); taking an appeal or filing a petition for certiorari; or making a
motion for a directed verdict.

There is some authority on this issue, but it is sparse and not directly on point. The Third District has held that the statute of limitations is not tolled by an administrative order closing the courts for weather-related issues. Ramirez v. McCravy, 4 So.3d 692 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009) [.pdf]. The Fourth District has held that hurricane-related closures and the resulting administrative order did toll a deadline, but it was a deadline to file for review of arbitration, which is not one of the types of deadlines excluded from enlargement by Rule 1.090. Rasabi v. Salomon, 51 So.3d 1284 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) [.pdf]. And certainly, a court may by administrative order declare a date a Holiday, thus eliminating that day from being counted as the last day in any time calculation under Rule 2.514. See, e.g., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Kenyon, 826 So.2d 370 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002)[.pdf] (applying prior time calculation rule). Maybe since the Florida Supreme Court promulgated Rule 1.090, it’s administrative orders can supersede this issue. But I wouldn’t count on it, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the guinea pig having to argue it to the Court in order to preserve my client’s right to appeal.

Here’s what I recommend: When it comes to a notice of appeal or a motion for rehearing, best not to mess around. Get it filed by the deadline, or early, rather than rely on a yet-to-be issued AO. Jurisdictional and hard deadlines are not to be messed with. And if your issue is the timeliness of a Rule 1.530 motion for rehearing or new trial, don’t wait for the timeliness issue to play out: file your notice of appeal no later than the 30th day after the original order was filed with the clerk, rather than counting on tolling. Since the 2015 rules change eliminated the trap caused by the old rules, and filing a notice of appeal no longer abandons a properly filed motion for rehearing, there’s no reason not to just get the notice of appeal on file, even if the fight over the timing of the 1.530 motion is still pending. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.020(i)(3)(stating that appeal shall be held in abeyance while tolling motion is decided).

What happens if you do get in a pinch? If you have to make the Hail Mary throw, perhaps a Rule 1.540(b) motion asking for the judgement to be re-issued due to excusable neglect could work. The appellate courts have very rarely ordered trial courts to grant such motions where the court found excusable neglect in determining the date final judgment was rendered, in order to allow for a timely appeal. See, e.g., Pompi v. City of Jacksonville, 872 So.2d 931 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004)[.pdf] (reversing denial of Rule 1.540(b) motion and ordering re-issuance of judgment). Those cases were all in the context of the date of rendition being unclear due to multiple filing stamps on the final judgment, not in the context of missed deadline due to weather. Loss of power might be considered excusable neglect, for example. But best not to go there. Get it filed! Even a one page, incomplete, or in-the-wrong-court Notice of Appeal will preserve the rights, even if you later have to amend it. See, e.g., Kaweblum v. Thornhill Estates Homeowners Association, Inc., 755 So.2d 85 (Fla. 2000) (notice of appeal filed in wrong court preserved right to appeal).

To my fellow Florida attorneys, and anyone else in Hurricane Matthew’s path, be safe.