On Monday, May 6, 2024, Law.com reported that the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Philadelphia Judge Mark Cohen violated conduct rules through politically charged posts he made on Facebook.

The court’s decision established guidelines around what judges can and cannot post on social media. It represented the first case in Pennsylvania to directly address appropriate social media usage for members of the judiciary.

In the ruling, the court determined that dozens of Judge Cohen’s Facebook posts promoted political leanings and endorsed particular candidates or policies in a way that compromised his impartiality and created an appearance of bias. Some of the content expressed support for Democratic figures like President Joe Biden and former Governor Tom Wolf.

While the court acknowledged the posts did not directly relate to matters over which Cohen presided, they still reflected a clear partisan alignment, which is prohibited under judicial conduct standards meant to ensure fairness. The disciplinary court found Judge Cohen’s social media activity violated seven canons related to maintaining an impartial profile and refraining from political activities online.

Cohen’s attorney, Samuel Stretton, criticized the decision as restricting his client’s free speech rights too severely. However, the ruling noted judges are still allowed to use platforms like Facebook for non-political discussions explaining the legal system or promoting community involvement. It drew a line at expressions of partisan views that risk compromising the expected impartiality and independence of the judicial role.

A sanction hearing against Judge Cohen has yet to be scheduled following the disciplinary court’s findings. His lawyer indicated plans to appeal the outcome, arguing it leaves judges with little leeway for commentary beyond just personal matters online.



Source: Law.com