(reposted from the June 2013 issue of Connected, a newsletter from the National Center for State Courts)
Court News Ohio reported this week about two blogging Ohio judges, Medina County Common Pleas Judge James Kimbler and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger of the Ohio Supreme Court. But if you searched across the country, you would only find a handful of sitting judges with currently active blogs. While the number of legal and judicial blogs written by law professors, attorneys, law librarians, and legal analysts has skyrocketed in the past several years, the number of judges who have their own blog has remained relatively small. Short for “weblog,” blogs are essentially online journals that are updated regularly and typically allow for readers to provide comments. Blogs can be a very effective communication medium, and the influence of legal blogs can be seen in the rapid increase of citations to legal blogs found in court opinions and law review articles. For example, a 2006 scan found 27 court opinions with references to legal blogs. By 2012, another study found that number had increased to 88, including a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs, Inc. (2012) citing Patently-O. That same 2012 study found that by June 2012, there were 6,340 citations to blogs in law reviews and legal periodicals.
So why are judges blogging and what are they talking about? The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct encourages judges to “participate in activities that promote public understanding of and confidence in the justice system.” Blogging can accomplish just that. Judge Richard G. Kopf, Senior Judge on the U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, and author of the popular blog, Hercules and the Umpire, explained, “I think I have something worth writing about.” Judge Kopf writes about what it means to be a federal trial judge on a day-to-day basis, and some recent topics include sentencing, the sequester, and jury selection.
Justice Lanzinger’s blog, Justice Judy, launched in 2010 and is primarily a tool used to educate middle and high school students about the judicial system. Justice Lanzinger, a former teacher, is the first and only state supreme court justice blogging on this topic.
What topics are off limits for blogging judges? The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct requires that judges act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 2 of the Model Code prohibits judges from making any public comment “that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court.” So clearly, judges are not blogging about pending or impending matters. The State of Washington, in a 2009 judicial ethics advisory committee opinion on this issue, suggested that judges may also consider posting a disclaimer that the opinions expressed are only those of the author and should not be imputed to other judges. The opinion also suggested that judges monitor blog post comments to make sure that the thread of the discussion does not change from that permitted by the Canons.
Connected compiled a list of some additional currently active blogs written by judges and they include the following:
Country Judge, written by Minnesota District Court Judge Tom McCarthy.
Bench and Bar Experiences, written by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John DiMotto.
AJA Blog, the blog of the American Judges Association. It is written by Judge Kevin S. Burke, a trial judge in Minneapolis.
Chancery 12, written by Mississippi Chancery Judge Larry Primeaux.
Becker-Posner Blog, written by Richard Posner, Judge of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and Gary Becker.