Tweets from the bench in South Florida

Drawing unwanted attention from Broward’s attorney for the poor and indigent, Circuit Court Judge Matthew Destry has been asked by Public Defender Howard Finkelstein to refrain from tweeting from the bench during court proceedings, according to JAA Blog late Monday.

In an apparent – and almost unnoticed first in the judiciary – Destry established a Twitter account in late February. Appropriately named after his @DIV_FY Broward Circuit Court Division, Judge Destry’s tweets present an innocuous preview of proceedings in his courtroom, along with photos of lawyers appearing before the bench.

Following no one and with only 19 followers and 32 messages in three months, Destry has rarely tweeted twice in the same day.

Hoping to turn his Twitter account into an online progress docket that could prove useful to lawyers, Destry is a former prosecutor who was appointed in late 2007 by former Governor Charlie Crist. He was subsequently re-elected to the bench in November, 2010 for a six-year term of office.

People ask – why should Howard Finkelstein be worried about tweets from the bench while he himself is better known for the longstanding “Help Me Howard” series on WSVN 7 News in Miami?

Perception – nothing but perception.

Judges – whether appointed or elected – are unlike public officials in the other two branches of government. They are expected to be impartial and impervious to influence. Every status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter could be scrutinized for hints of bias or corruption. Moreover, every “friend” or “follower” can be potentially compromising in a future appearance before the court.

That’s why judges approach the question of social media with trepidation.

And while judges are people too, they should not be restricted from joining in on the social media frenzy. After all, they have spouses, family, friends and long lost friends from school. Egos and ambitions aside, they are frequently invited to join Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

And while the judiciary is the only branch of government with a negligible social-media presence, official and unofficial pages do exist on Facebook and Twitter. Whether it is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defending the Constitution or the U.S. Supreme Court with 1,705 tweets and 49,246 followers, there is nothing official but the sound of silence.

An exception, though, for the Twitter feed of Broward County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Destry.

Americans constantly complain that the courts lack the transparency of the other branches. So why is an on-going Twitter feed from Judge Destry and the Broward County Courthouse being ridiculed and not applauded?

That is a question for “Help Me Howard.”

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