May judges search the internet for facts? ABA ethics opinion sees problems

BY DEBRA CASSENS WEISS

Judges can conduct legal research online for cases not cited by the parties, but using the internet to find facts concerning the parties or subject matter poses ethical problems, according to an ABA ethics opinion.

Finding “adjudicative facts” about a case online is generally banned by the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, according to ABA Formal Opinion 478. An exception allows judges to go online for facts that are subject to judicial notice because they are generally known and not subject to reasonable dispute.

Adjudicative facts concern the immediate parties, including who did what, where, when, how, and with what motive or intent, the ethics opinion explains.

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