Over the weekend, a Facebook page under the name Sabrina Shizue McKenna was created. The sitting First Circuit Court Judge does not have a Facebook page and says it is inappropriate for her to have one because it could create the appearance of impropriety or ethical conflicts.
In the U.S. mainland states, judges have gotten into trouble for inadvertently “friending” people who come before them in the court, she says.
Some states recommend that judges refrain from using Facebook and other social media. That includes Florida, where the Florida Judicial Ethics Committee issued an opinion forbidding judges to be Facebook “friends” with lawyers who may appear before them.
“When judges ‘friend’ lawyers who may appear before them, the committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge,’” reports Volokh.com, a blog written by law professors.
Hawaii attorney Robert Thomas, who runs his own legal blog, says the rules regarding judges participating in ‘social networking’ are not clearly defined.
“Hawaii does not have any express rules prohibiting or allowing it, but judges are generally required to avoid the ‘appearance of impropriety,’” he says.
Thomas says that other states such as Florida for example have concluded this means judges may participate in social networking sites but cannot be ‘friends’ with attorneys or parties who may appear before them.
However, other states approach the matter differently. In New York and Kentucky, Thomas says judges are allowed to ‘friend’ lawyers who appear in their courts since that does not reasonably convey special influence. He says the states may require that a judge disclose the on-line relationship as it could be viewed as a ‘close social relationship,’ leading to a judge’s recusal.
“What these guidelines show is that judges – like all of us — should be careful when engaging in on-line relationships,” Thomas says.
McKenna may have been a target because she has been in the news in recent days. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, named her as his Supreme Court nominee; she will likely be confirmed before the full Senate with little debate, lawmakers say.
Senate Judiciary Chair Clayton Hee, D-Kahaluu, again brought her into the media spotlight last week when he announced on the Senate floor during a debate over civil union legislation that McKenna was gay.
McKenna, who is popular with many people in Hawaii in both major political parties, has served as a Circuit Court judge since June 29,1995. Before the she was a District Court judge, an associate at Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, general counsel to Otaka, Inc., and an assistant professor at the UH Law School (her alma mater 1982).
The Facebook page contained substantial false information about her. That included her interests in “women” and a band she does not listen to. The long list of groups she “likes” included gay and lesbian groups, certain Hawaii media outlets including Honolulu Civil Beat, and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle.
The person who set up the page sent friend requests to several high profile politicians, including legislators who she will have to appear before during her upcoming confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. Friend requests were also sent to a number of reporters and media outlets including Hawaii Reporter.
At McKenna’s request, Facebook removed the page. She does not know if the person who set up the page did so maliciously or not.
Celebrities and other high profile people of interest could easily become a target of fake social media, says NextAdvisor.com, which publishes a Facebook identity theft protection guide, The site warns that “someone setting up a fake Facebook profile in your name may be a sign of even more serious identity theft.”
The guide offers 6 steps to protect against a fake Facebook including: “Limiting the amount of personal information available on your Facebook profile, Proactively managing your Facebook privacy settings, Only accepting friend requests from people you know, Limiting the amount of “time and place” data that you expose through Facebook, Remembering that even people you know can be identity thieves and Considering an identity theft protection service.”
If the victim already has a fake Facebook account, they can simply visit the Facebook “Report a Fake Profile” page and enter the requested information. Those without a Facebook account can ask a friend that does have an account to report the fake page on their behalf or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org , NextAdvisor.com says.