CJEO has collected the following sources of practical guidance for judges using social media and the internet.

CJEO Advisory Opinions Related to Social Media

The same ethical standards that apply in face-to-face settings apply with equal force to online communications and social media posts.  Due to lack of control over the dissemination and permanence of online statements, judges must exercise caution and restraint and should assume the widest possible audience.  While statements related to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice are generally permissible, judges must not engage in prohibited political commentary or make any other statements that suggest bias or demean the judicial office.  Judges should carefully evaluate what they intend to post and continually monitor social media communications to ensure public confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary.

Appellate justices are required to exercise reasonable direction and control over the conduct of their staff to prevent them from making public comments that violate the canons.  If a justice becomes aware that a staff member has posted an improper comment on social media, the justice must, at a minimum, instruct the staff member to delete or remove the comment from public view and then follow up with the staff member to ensure they have done so.  The justice may also need to instruct the staff member to correct or repudiate the comment on social media, particularly if the comment is demeaning or offensive, or otherwise undermines the dignity of the court.

A judge may serve as a signatory to a testimonial letter recommending a national bar association program dedicated to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administrative of justice provided the letter is not used for fundraising purposes.  If the letter is posted on the national bar association’s website, the letter should be made part of the website’s informational material and may not be posted on the area of the website that is devoted to solicitation and funding.

CJP Disciplinary Decisions Involving Social Media

The Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) publishes a compendium that summarizes private and public discipline involving the internet generally, organized by the following topics: (1) email or internet ex parte communications; (2) emails over computer court systems; (3) cell phone calls during court proceedings; (4) internet/social media postings; and (5) prohibited uses.

Notable CJP decisions include:

A judge was publicly admonished for joining a Facebook page in support of recalling a recently elected district attorney and posting statements and liking others’ posts that criticized the district attorney and his policies, which demonstrated bias against the district attorney’s office and also constituted public comment on pending proceedings.  The judge also maintained a Twitter account and posted numerous tweets that reflected animus toward Black Lives Matter protestors, people of Chinese descent, Muslims, immigrants, and women, and advanced partisan viewpoints on political issues.  The decision notes that the judge’s Facebook activity was viewable to at least 16,000 group members and that his Twitter account was accessible by public officials and multiple private attorneys.

A former commissioner was disciplined for posts made to a public Facebook account that reflected bias against certain racial, religious, and immigrant groups, anti-same-sex marriage sentiment, and an animus toward the poor.  The commissioner also took positions on controversial issues, opposed and praised certain presidential candidates, and disparaged a former President and the federal justice system.  After the presiding judge ordered the commissioner to remove his Facebook posts, they were still publicly visible for several months.  However, when the commissioner became aware that the posts were still public, he sought assistance to remove them and change his privacy settings.

A judge was publicly admonished for violating several canons by posting a statement of a sexual nature about a candidate for judicial office on Facebook with knowing or reckless disregard for the truth of the statement. The judge was also admonished for remaining Facebook friends with attorneys that appeared before the judge and failing to disclose those friendships, which violated canon 2 (a judge must avoid impropriety in all activities), canon 2A (a judge must promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary), and canon 2B (a judge must not convey the impression that anyone is in a special position to influence the judge).  The decision references California Judges Association Opinion 66, which advises that a judge should not maintain a social network relationship with an attorney who has a matter pending before the judge.

Other Social Media Resources

    • California Code of Judicial Ethics

In 2018 and 2020, the Supreme Court amended canons 2A and 2B of the California Code of Judicial Ethics to include specific advisory committee commentary regarding online activity and social media.  The 2018 amendment cautions judges regarding the accessibility and permanence of electronic communications and clarifies that the same canons that govern judicial conduct in traditional settings also apply in virtual settings.  The 2020 amendment prohibits judicial officers from engaging in conduct on crowdsourcing websites that would lend judicial prestige to advance the interests of private businesses.  Below are those selected canons and advisory committee commentary, as amended:


Promoting Public Confidence

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. A judge shall not make statements, whether public or nonpublic, that commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the courts or that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office.

A judge must exercise caution when engaging in any type of electronic communication, including communication by text or email, or when participating in online social networking sites or otherwise posting material on the Internet, given the accessibility, widespread transmission, and permanence of electronic communications and material posted on the Internet. The same canons that govern a judge’s ability to socialize and communicate in person, on paper, or over the telephone apply to electronic communications, including use of the Internet and social networking sites. These canons include, but are not limited to, Canons 2B(2) (lending the prestige of judicial office), 3B(7) (ex parte communications), 3B(9) (public comment about pending* or impending proceedings*), 3E(2) (disclosure of information relevant to disqualification), and 4A (conducting extrajudicial activities to avoid casting doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially,* demeaning the judicial office, or frequent disqualification).

Use of the Prestige of Judicial Office

(1) A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment, nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that any individual is in a special position to influence the judge.

(2) A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office or use the judicial title in any manner, including any oral or written communication, to advance the pecuniary or personal interests of the judge or others.

If a judge posts on social networking sites such as Facebook or crowdsourced sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, the judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the pecuniary or personal interests of the judge or others. For example, a judge may not comment on, recommend, or criticize businesses, products, or services on such sites if it is reasonably likely that the judge can be identified as a judge.

    • California Judges Association

The California Judges Association (CJA) is a private association of judges that has published two advisory opinions providing guidance on specific social media uses:

The opinion cautions judges that using crowdsourcing websites to “like” or recommend businesses impermissibly lends judicial prestige to advance those businesses’ interests if a viewer can determine the judge’s identity.  The opinion advises judges using social media to educate themselves regarding a website’s privacy settings and only “like” or comment on crowdsourcing websites when the judge remains anonymousThe opinion further advises that judges must never “like” offensive posts under any circumstances and must not “like” candidates for non-judicial office.

The opinion provides an overview of social networking and advises that judges are not prohibited from engaging in social networking with attorneys who may appear before them but should consider whether there is an impression that the attorney is in a special position to influence the judge or whether the networking casts doubt on the judge’s ability to be impartial.  The opinion advises that a judge should not engage in social networking with an attorney who has an active case pending before the judge.

    • National Center for State Courts, Center for Judicial Ethics

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) publishes a series of articles that provide a national overview of how the different states address social media and judicial ethics issues.  The articles are published in two parts (below) and have been updated (also below):

The first article provides a general overview of the characteristics of and various types of social media.  It analyzes and summarizes key judicial ethics issues related to the use of social media in the context of a judge’s judicial duties, including online relationships or friendships with attorneys, disqualification and disclosure, ex parte communications and independent investigations, and comments on pending cases.  The article cites applicable sections of state codes of judicial ethics, opinions from judicial ethics advisory bodies, and relevant case law throughout the United States.

The second article covers restrictions on judges’ off-bench social media conduct, including commenting on legal and non-legal issues, providing legal advice, disclosing non-public information, charitable or political activities, and campaign conduct.  The article also cites relevant codes of judicial ethics, judicial ethics advisory opinions, and relevant case law.

NCSC periodically updates its comprehensive two-part article regarding social media and judicial ethics, which was published in 2017.  The updates include summaries of recent public decisions and private discipline imposed against judges for misconduct relating to the use of technology or social media.  The updates also include citations to judicial ethics advisory opinions, case law, and disciplinary decisions nationwide.

NCSC has updated its two-part social media article again in 2022.