Technology

Judge appeals against Facebook training demand

Michelle Slaughter
Image caption Judge Slaughter is appealing against a ruling that she must take social-media classes

A US judge is challenging a formal rebuke she received after writing on Facebook about trials that she had been presiding over.

One of Michelle Slaughter's posts led to her being taken off a case that involved claims of child abuse.

Last week Texas' State Commission on Judicial Conduct condemned her actions, saying they had discredited the judiciary.

But she is appealing against an order that she take social-media classes.

"Like some other judges in Galveston County, I used social media to fulfil a campaign promise to provide transparency in the courts, to educate and provide information to the public regarding their courts, and to give the public insight regarding our justice system," said Judge Slaughter in a statement.

"None of my statements indicated any probable decision I would make, and none of my statements expressed a bias for or against any particular party. Everything I posted was publicly available information."

Judge Slaughter's public Facebook page, which included a photo of her wearing her court robes, is no longer accessible.

However, she continues to maintain a separate profile that is restricted to friends.

'Boy in the box'

Judge Slaughter's posts came to prominence after a high-profile case she had been responsible for was ruled a mistrial in 2014, leading to it being heard by a different judge and jury.

It centred on claims that a father, who had locked his son in a windowless wooden structure, was guilty of unlawful restraint and of injuring the child.

"After we finished Day 1 of the case called the 'Boy in the Box' case, trustees from the jail came in and assembled the actual 6ft x 8ft [1.8m x 2.4m] 'box' inside the courtroom," she wrote in one of her posts.

Image caption Judge Slaughter was told her posts were "inconsistent" with her duties and had "discredited" the judiciary

At the time of her post, the structure had not yet been admitted into evidence.

The judge also posted a link to a Reuters news article, which contained further details that had not been presented to the jury at that time.

Judge Slaughter defended her actions, saying they were to encourage members of the public to follow the proceedings.

But the State Commission noted that she had explicitly forbidden the jurors themselves from writing about the case on Facebook.

"Judge Slaughter cast reasonable doubt upon her own impartiality and violated her own admonition to jurors by turning to social media to publicly discuss cases pending in her court, giving rise to a legitimate concern that she would not be fair or impartial," it stated in its ruling.

The State Commission also drew attention to other two cases she had posted about.

In one, in which the defendant was accused of having been in the possession of child abuse imagery, she described the case as "difficult", and added: "Bless the jury for their service and especially bless the poor child victims."

In the other, she described a defendant as being "very challenging".

The State Commission has ordered the judge to obtain four hours of classes about the proper use of social media by the judiciary and warned that if she does not do so within two months she could face further action.

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