A Washington Supreme Court Justice whose Facebook posts about charities to help the homeless and those battling AIDS has been admonished by the state judicial ethics commission.
Justice Mary Yu said she was stunned when she received a letter from the Commission on Judicial Conduct in May. She said the letter was sent after someone complained about two posts she made the previous month about “Dining Out For Life,” which is a fundraiser to help AIDS service organizations, and Real Change, a newspaper that helps the homeless.
“I did not think this could happen,” Yu told KOMO on Friday.
Yu said she and her lawyer were in mediation talks with the Commission for months before coming to an agreement – she would be admonished for the postings on her official government Facebook page.
“Reflecting on it now, for several months, it’s not unreasonable,” Yu said about the admonishment.
Yu said when she shared the postings she didn’t think there was an ethical dilemma.
But, according to the order of admonishment, Yu violated several rules of judicial conduct by using her position to fundraise.
“While these Facebook posts present no articulable element of coercion, the Commission finds that it is still an abuse of the prestige of judicial office,” the order read. “Justice Yu defers to the Commission’s judgement on this issue.”
Sitting inside the Administrative Office of the Courts office in SeaTac Friday, Yu said she was sorry for the postings. But, she added, the admonishment won’t stop her from speaking out about social issues or posting on social media.
“My intent was not to be soliciting, or doing anything improper, but to truly explain who these individuals are. Everybody’s talking about homelessness,” Yu said.
Yu fears the admonishment, which comes with no sanctions, will create a chilling effect on judges statewide. She said there’s a level of mystery surrounding the courts and what judges do, something she has been combating for years. She said that through social media judges can teach people about what they do, as well as share a more humanizing side. Yu, on her Facebook page, regularly shares photos of her dog “Charlie.”
“If this is a chance to communicate with judges across the state with being engaged and using social media and being careful I welcome the opportunity,” she said about the admonishment. “I think that’s a good thing.”
Yu said she hopes the admonishment starts a conversation statewide about the need for social media policies from the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“The area of social media is a relatively new form of communication, and in this area, as in so many others, the law tends to lag behind technology,” the Commission order read. “There has not yet been a Commission opinion addressing social media, so the need for guidance here is even greater than in other areas.”