Though we usually restrict ourselves to business related cases here at 600 Commerce, this criminal case was too interesting to ignore, so enjoy:
After William Youkers pleaded guilty to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, he subsequently failed to abide by the his community supervision requirements. Youkers made a bunch of excuses for his failure to comply, but ultimately the trial judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Youkers moved for a new trial, arguing that the trial judge’s undisclosed Facebook “friendship” with the father of his girlfriend biased the court’s decision. During the hearing on Youkers’ motion for a new trial, the judge testified that he knew the father only because both had run for public office in the same election cycle, and nothing more. Despite this fleeting relationship, the father had, through this Facebook friendship, sent a message to the judge, asking him to go easy on Youkers. The judge replied by telling the father that the communication was improper and that he didn’t even read the entire message once he figured out what it was about. The judge then put a copy of the Facebook message in the court file and told the lawyers for both sides about it. No other messages were exchanged.
On appeal, the Court noted that no Texas case has ever before addressed this topic. It then explained that, as a general matter, “judges are not prohibited from using social media.” Following the ABA’s commentary on this subject, the Court advised that simply being a Facebook friend with someone does not provide any evidence of the degree of the parties’ relationship in the real world, and that further context is needed to determine whether bias exists. On the facts in this case, the Court found that there was no suggestion of bias and that the trial judge acted just as he should have upon receiving the message. The Court therefore sustained his denial of Youkers’ motion for a new trial and moved on to other issues.