Tempest in a courtroom? Two Pinellas judges like Kriseman’s Facebook page, but not Baker’s

Lauralee Westine is a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge and also the wife of Pinellas sheriff Bob Gualtieri. On her Facebook page, Westine liked the campaign Facebook page of St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman. However, Westine did not like the campaign Facebook page of his opponent, former mayor Rick Baker.

Westine is not alone – Pinellas judge Dora Komninos also liked Kriseman’s Facebook page, but not Baker’s. If their intent in liking Kriseman’s page was stay informed through updates, they sought no such updates from Baker.

In a prepared statement, Stephen Thompson, Public Information Officer for the 6th judicial circuit said that both judges “liked Rick Kriseman’s personal page before they were judges, and they have not engaged in liking any political candidates on Facebook while judges.” In response to follow-up questions, Thompson referred to the prepared statement.

Kriseman did in fact convert his personal Facebook page to a campaign page at some point in time, but questions to campaign spokesman Jacob Smith went unanswered.

The 7th rule (“canon”) of  Florida Code of Judicial Conduct essentially forbids judges from engaging in any “political activity.” The code does not define the term “political activity” but the rule’s very title requires judge to refrain from “inappropriate” political activity.

Below is an annotated screenshot of the judges’ likes of Kriseman’s Facebook page. The person who provided the screenshot on condition of anonymity confirmed that neither judge had liked Rick Baker’s campaign Facebook page.

After we let Komninos know that we would be calling to ask about this matter, Komninos took down her Facebook page. Westine left her Facebook page up after we let her know, but no longer likes Kriseman’s campaign Facebook page.

While there is no specific ban in the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct on liking or following a political candidate’s social media account, several people knowledgeable of the code told the Guardian that liking Kriseman’s Facebook page created the wrong appearance. That negative appearance could have been avoided by a thorough review of their social media accounts when they both became judges within the last year.

Judge Komninos was elected in a landslide in August, 2016, garnering 71% of the vote. She was sworn into office in February, 2017. Westine was appointed as a circuit judge by governor Rick Scott in September, 2016. She was selected among a field of 23 applicants. Both judges serve in the 6th judicial circuit.

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