Pleased today to welcome a contribution from Jonathan Peters, an associate professor who has faculty appointments in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Law at the University of Georgia. (prior posts) Professor Peters teaches and researches in the area of media law and policy, and his post here discusses his participation April 19 in an online training event hosted in Uzbekistan.
I was honored recently to deliver a presentation to judges and court staff in Uzbekistan about using social media to engage with the public and press. The event was hosted by the Supreme Judicial Council of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as part of a project facilitated by the U.N. Development Programme and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
One purpose of the project, called the “Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan,” is to strengthen public access to the nation’s judicial system as well as public trust in it. And a key priority has been to grow citizen knowledge of the courts and to improve the society’s legal culture and the population’s overall legal literacy.
To those ends, I shared an American perspective on how U.S. judges and courts—at the federal and state levels—use social media. Courts often use Twitter and Facebook to share information, and judges often use them to humanize themselves and to discuss matters of trial and appellate practice with other members of the legal profession. Over 42 percent of court public information officers reported in a recent survey that using social media is essential for courts to communicate with the public. As one put it:
There is an emerging recognition among courts that in order to fulfill the requirement that courts are transparent and understandable to the public in the new media age we are in, courts will have to play an active role in facilitating access to information and perform many of the same functions that traditionally have been performed by the now dwindling traditional media.
Judicial ethics codes even encourage judges to engage with their communities in various ways. For example, Canon 4 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges says that a “judge may … speak, write, lecture, and teach on both law-related and nonlegal subjects.” The associated commentary says that “[c]omplete separation of a judge from extrajudicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the society in which the judge lives.”
But judges must be careful on social media not to run afoul of certain limits on their extrajudicial speech, namely those on ex parte communications and their ability to comment on cases pending before them. They also must avoid activities that would reflect adversely on their impartiality or independence. As I told the judges in Uzbekistan, recognizing the risks posed by specific types of content will enable them to create and maintain a social-media presence that is effective and productive—and respectful of the unique responsibilities of a judge.