In the midst of contested and adversarial divorces cases, judges are expected to be the neutral, impartial, objective party who make decisions when divorcing couples cannot agree. Generally, you are able to trust that if both sides make arguments defending their position to a judge, that judge will properly weigh the evidence and arguments to make a fair ruling for the parties. However, judges are human just like anyone else, and at time some judges may unfortunately make poor choices and be wrongfully influenced in their rulings. In such cases, it is highly important to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side who can identify unethical behavior on the part of the judge and challenge the fairness of the ruling.
The “Facebooking” Judge in Florida faces Charges
Earlier this year, Circuit Judge Linda Schoonover was removed from a divorce case that had a large amount of money at stake. Judge Schoonover went on Facebook and submitted a “friend” request to the wife in the case, Sandra Chace, a successful commercial real estate agent. Unsure of what to do, Chace consulted with her attorney, who advised her to deny the friend request.
Apparently upset that Chace rebuffed her request, Judge Schoonover then ruled that Chace should be responsible for the majority of the marital debt, as well as ordered Chace to pay her husband an excessive alimony award. Chace requested that the judge remove herself from the case, and successfully took the request before the Florida Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Judge Schoonover participated in unethical ex parte communications with Chace by contacting her on social media.
Ex parte communications are any material communications between a judge and a party or attorney in a case without a record of the communication or notice to all involved parties of the communication. Such communications can affect the impartiality of a judge in a case, or at least can make one party fear that they are not receiving a fair adjudication. For this reason, ex parte communications are prohibited and deemed unethical. If a judge participates in such ex parte communications, an attorney can make a strong argument for the removal of that judge from the case.
Apparently, this was not the first time Judge Schoonover had inappropriately participated in ex parte communications via social media. Previously, the judge friended a City Commissioner while she was presiding over her divorce case. The Commissioner apparently updated her status to say that she hoped “justice comes swiftly” to her husband, and the judge inappropriately commented, “Yep, justice comes swiftly.” In that case, the judge did remove herself at the husband’s request once he heard of the Facebook comment.
Judge Schoonover now faces numerous ethics charges stemming out of the Chace divorce case, as well as other “bizarre” and “paranoid” behavior, including installing hidden cameras in her chambers and calling law enforcement to report her office had been bugged.
The ethics charges demonstrate that not every judge is capable of being impartial in every case, so you should always have a family lawyer handling your case who can identify troubling behavior from the court. If you have a family law case, contact experienced Boca Raton attorney Alan R. Burton today