While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have broadened our definition of the word “friend,” some users take it too far. That would be the case for Florida Circuit Judge Linda Schoonover, who decided to use a divorcing couple to build her friend base on Facebook, but ended up crossing the line when her request was ignored by the soon-to-be divorcee.
Sandra Chace of Winter Spring, Florida was in the middle of her divorce proceedings when Schoonover sent her a Facebook friend request. Chace didn’t reject it — as you can imagine during that time she was a little busy — but igorned it. That apparently didn’t sit well with the judge. Schoonover made the "friend" request after hearing evidence in the woman's divorce case but before making a final ruling, according to court paperwork. And by the time the ruling was read, according to Chace’s lawyer, the divorcing party was ordered to pay “an excessive amount of alimony and lawyer fees — initially $4,000 a month.”
After that, Chace asked the judge to recuse herself from the case, which Schoonover refused, and then filed a formal complaint with the Fifth District Court of Appeal, charging that she was the victim of retaliation. In a surprising twist, the court agreed with her.
Not so much that the alimony was excessive, but that Schoonover should have recused herself from the case.
It's not clear what being a "friend" means on Facebook, appeals court Judge Jay Cohen wrote in his Jan. 24 opinion. Sometimes people ask near strangers to be their Facebook friends, he noted. But Schoonover was wrong to stay on the case, he wrote, because judges are barred from communicating with one party in a pending case and not all others.
"The trial judge's effort to initiate ex parte communications with a litigant is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct," he wrote.
Image courtesy Orlando Sentinel