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Imprudent posts, confidentiality breach force judge off the bench

A celebrity walks into a courtroom …. It may sound like the opening line of a comedy routine, but it has turned into a nightmare for a judge and a major headache for the celebrity. The story is set in Arkansas, but it stands as an object lesson to everyone about the dangers of social media and the importance of confidentiality with adoption proceedings. So, take heed, Minnesota: This could have happened anywhere.

In 2012, actress Charlize Theron adopted a child. The details of the process and the court proceedings were to be confidential. That meant that everyone, not just the parties to the adoption, swore not to share any information with anyone.

That evening, Judge Mike Maggio, under a different screen name, disclosed online that Theron had adopted a child in his county. He revealed the baby's race as well.

When an Arkansas political blog revealed that some questionable posts were coming from Maggio, the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission took action. In March 2014, Maggio admitted to breaching confidentiality in Theron's case and to posting other inappropriate content in the same online forum. The judge was also under investigation for irregularities in his campaign contributions.

The commission has recommended to the state's Supreme Court that Maggio be suspended from the bench immediately and barred from serving as a judge for the rest of his life. It sounds as if Maggio has agreed to the terms -- including payment of a $750 fine -- and the court should decide the matter soon. If everything goes as planned, the commission will drop all charges against Maggio.

Again, the case confirms that the judiciary takes its ethical obligations seriously. It also shows that everyone should be careful with contributions to social media. It may look anonymous, but it is not. And third, it reminds us that adoption is a private matter, that everyone involved should respect the wishes of the parties when it comes to talking about what happens during the adoption process. The pledge of confidentiality applies to everyone, not just the celebrities who enter the courtroom.

Source: Miami Herald, "Arkansas judge to be banned for online comments," Kelly P. Kissel, Aug. 6, 2014

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