If You Are a Judge, You Better Get a Dog

My best friend is a judge. In fact, we are more than friends. We are lovers. We've been sleeping together for 28 years. But we are not living in sin. We're living in Memphis, although I must admit that it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.

The judge who is my best friend and my lover is my wife, Judge Claudia. While I have never appeared before her as either a lawyer or a litigant, she has held me in contempt from time to time, not in her capacity with the Shelby County Juvenile Court, but as Chief Justice in the Haltom household. Like Hilda Rumpole, Judge Claudia is She Who Must Be Obeyed, the Judge from whom there is no appeal.

While I hope I am Judge Claudia's only lover, I know I am not her only friend. Judge Claudia has hundreds of friends, maybe even thousands. I recently discovered that Judge Claudia "friends" a number of her friends, and many of them "friend" her. When I first heard that Judge Claudia and her many friends were busy "friending" each other, I hadn't the slightest idea what this meant. I immediately asked myself two questions. First, when did "friend" become a verb? And second, what in the heck does it mean to "friend" someone?

Inquiring minds want to know, so I asked Judge Claudia who she was "friending," who was friending her, and whether this meant I should consult a divorce lawyer. To my relief, I learned that "friending" does not involve any monkey business. Rather, it is something called "social networking" that Judge Claudia, her friends, and 350 million people around the world are doing on something called "Facebook."

I also found out that my daughter, the Princess, "friends" on Facebook as does my son in Japan, and my son in Boston. Insofar as I know, I am the only member of the Haltom household who doesn't "friend" anybody. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that my two Beagles, Atticus and Scout, are "friending" Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin on a canine Facebook.

But while I am not on Facebook, I have a very important message that I need to convey to Judge Claudia and all my friends who are Tennessee judges. You may have to "de-friend" any and all of us lawyers whom you now friend on Facebook or a similar social network.

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee recently issued an opinion that judges and lawyers in the Gator State can no longer be Facebook friends. The Committee ruled that when judges "friend" lawyers that may appear before them "... 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." The committee's opinion is merely advisory at this point and has not been adopted as a formal rule by the Florida Gator Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Dec. 31, 2009, that a number of Florida judges are now "unfriending" all their lawyer friends on Facebook. Florida Circuit Judge Bob LePlanc e-ditched 160 lawyer friends listed on his Facebook account, while Circuit Judge Tim Shea shut his Facebook account down completely.

In Orange County, Florida, Judge Martha Adams has reportedly spent hours sending farewell e-mails to all the lawyers she is defriending.

To paraphrase a line from Harry Truman, if you are a Florida judge and want a friend, you'd better get a dog.

Well, since I have never worn black robes and probably never will, let me exercise my First Amendment right and say this to all my friends on this page of the Tennessee Bar Journal Non-Facebook: I think this advisory opinion by the Gator Judicial Ethics Committee is nonsense on stilts.

While I am not on Facebook and have never to my knowledge actually "friended" anybody, I have many friends (in addition to Judge Claudia) who have day jobs as judges. And while I don't sleep with any of them except for Judge Claudia (I am no Tiger Woods), I enjoy having lunch with them from time to time and attending parties with them. I have actually danced with 60 percent of Tennessee's Supreme Court justices. (I'll just let you guess which three.)

When they are not on the bench, I call these judge friends by their first names. To me that doesn't show a lack of respect. To the contrary, it shows enormous respect. And I don't laugh at their jokes unless the jokes are funny.

I often appear in front of these judge friends as a lawyer. On those occasions, I address them as "Your Honor." Sometimes they rule in my favor. Sometimes they rule against me. Their decisions have absolutely nothing to do with our friendship. The only judge who gives me any home cooking is Judge Claudia, and when she does, she expects me to return the favor by taking her out to a really nice restaurant.

And so, here's hoping Tennessee judges and lawyers keep friending each other. While we play different roles, we are all in this wonderful profession together. And besides, Tennessee judges need some of us lawyer friends who will address them off the bench by their first names, and more important, laugh at their jokes only when they are funny.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.