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The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 63-23
October 2, 1963

If in the course of representation in a personal injury action the attorney learns the subject accident was fraudulently conceived or effectuated he may withdraw from the case. No specific reason need be given unless the client insists. Whether or not the attorney may disclose to a grand jury or prosecutor information received from the client is not a question of ethics.

Note: An attorney's obligations to reveal information to the court are governed by Rule 4-3.3, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

Canons: 29, 37, 41, 44

Vice-Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:

Essentially, the inquiry is, if a member of The Florida Bar must continue representation of a client in a personal injury case upon learning that the subject accident was fraudulently conceived and effected and, further, whether he may disclose to a grand jury or prosecuting officer information gained from the client in the course of the attorney-client relationship before learning of the fraudulent motive.

All Committee members agree that he may withdraw from the case either by returning the file, if action has not been instituted, or by obtaining the client's agreement and filing an appropriate motion, if the action has been filed. He may so withdraw even if the client does not agree. He need not give a specific reason other than to say he does not wish to continue the representation because of the existing circumstances. However, if the client insists upon receiving reasons, he may give them even if the matter is then before the Court.

Whether he may disclose information received from the client while employed is essentially a question of law, not ethics. Jurisdiction of this Committee does not extend to legal matters and we express no opinion in that regard. Further, much depends upon the information he has received and, of course, we are not advised in that regard. Reference is made to Canons 29 and 37 of the Canons of Professional Ethics and to Drinker, Legal Ethics, page 131 et seq. It is clear that a lawyer has the duty to disclose confidential information where disclosure is necessary to prevent a contemplated crime or fraud. However, when the possibility of crime or fraud has already been frustrated or when the crime or fraud has been completed, and the attorney then learns of it through confidential communications, the attorney-client relationship generally prevents disclosure of the information acquired. Cases which may be of interest include Queen v. Cox, 14 Q.B.D. 153 (1884), and Clark v. U.S., 289 U.S. 1 (1933).

[Revised: 08-24-2011]