Judges in Ohio can be a social media friend to lawyers appearing in their courtrooms but should be careful not to violate ethics rules, the state's apex court has opined.

According to the opinion issued by Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, a judge must maintain dignity in every comment, photograph and other information shared on the social network and following the ethics guidelines for social networking will require a judge's constant vigil.

The opinion lays down the precautions a judge should take while fraternizing with lawyers on the pages of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social media sites.

For instance, judges can't comment to anyone on social networking sites about cases they're handling and are prohibited from visiting the social media sites of any witnesses in a case or using those sites to gather information. Judges are also not allowed to give legal advice to others on a social networking site.

The opinion also says that judges can fraternize with lawyers who appear as counsel in cases in their courtroom. But judges should disqualify themselves from proceedings when a social networking relationship with a lawyer creates bias or prejudice concerning the lawyer or party. Judges should also not foster social networking interactions with individuals or organizations if such communications erode confidence in the independence of judicial decision making.

Furthermore, a judge should not make comments on a social networking site about any matters pending before the judge - not to a party, not to a counsel for a party, not to anyone, the opinion says.

According to Jon Marshall, the board's secretary, the opinion will be useful for judges who are experimenting with social media in both their personal and professional lives as it gives practical guidance on how to do so and maintain their obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct.