- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A state ethics panel says there’s nothing wrong with North Dakota judicial candidates logging onto Facebook as long as they don’t use it to ask for money.

It wasn’t clear what sparked the North Dakota Judicial Ethics Committee to issue the opinion - its first formal position on the question. Retired Southeast District Judge Ronald Goodman, the chairman of the panel, declined to explain, citing the group’s confidential work.

“It’s advisory so nobody has to follow our opinions,” Goodman said of the opinion issues Tuesday. “Of course they generally do because we’ve researched the situation.”

The opinion said the judge candidate or his or her campaign committee may establish social media pages “that do not involve financial solicitation on behalf of the candidate.” The candidate may include a link to a web page maintained by a campaign committee, but any fundraising “should be incidental to the structure of the page,” the opinion said.

Sitting judges are rarely challenged in North Dakota. When there is a race, candidates are asked to follow a code of judicial conduct, Goodman said.

“We have some limitations in terms of our behavior,” Goodman said. “We can’t make exorbitant promises, or we’re not supposed to make exorbitant promises, as to what we can and can’t do on the bench. We’re supposed to act fair and impartial.”

Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek was one of two finalists for an East Central District judgeship that opened up in 2014 when Judge Wickham Corwin stepped down. Van de Streek had never been on Facebook until his campaign.

“I am a bit of curmudgeon and the whole transition to social media wasn’t one that I followed,” Van de Streek said. He said he used Facebook mostly to post pictures from parades and other campaign events but didn’t use it to entice contributions.

“We might have announced fundraisers on there,” said Van de Streek, who lost his election to Susan Bailey. “It’s not like the Koch brothers getting into the race, putting in a million dollars and trying to put their thumb on the scale.”

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