The Florida Bar

October 29, 1973

A blanket refusal by a lawyer to accept court appointments to defend indigents in criminal cases would be contrary to his professional obligations. However, a lawyer may make his objections to representation of such criminal defendant's known to the court and request to be relieved, relying on the court's discretion.

CPR: Canon 2, EC 2-29

Committeeman Kittleson stated the opinion of the committee:

The Board of Governors of The Florida Bar has requested the Professional Ethics Committee for advice on this question: Does a lawyer violate Canon 2 of the Code of Professional Responsibility when he declines all court appointments to represent indigent defendants in criminal prosecutions on the sole ground that there is a possibility that his skills would be used to achieve an acquittal of a guilty person, a result that would be extremely repugnant to the lawyer? The question does not involve any plea of incompetence or inability to carry out the appointment on other grounds, and, on the contrary, the question presupposes that the lawyer has a good measure of pertinent skills and experiences. The question does not involve religious principles.

Canon 2 calls for lawyers to assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to make legal counsel available. When a lawyer is appointed by a court to undertake representation of a person unable to obtain counsel, he should not seek to be excused except for compelling reasons, and compelling reasons do not include the repugnance to the lawyer of the subject matter or of the defendant, or the lawyer's belief that the defendant is guilty. Ethical Consideration 2-29. The consensus of the Committee is that blanket refusal by a lawyer to accept court appointments, under the circumstances set forth in the question, would be non-fulfillment of his professional obligations. If a lawyer has strong and genuine feelings of the kind presented here, he may properly make those feelings known to the court and request that he not be appointed or that his appointment be rescinded. It is unlikely that a judge will force a lawyer to carry out an appointment if the judge believes that the intensity of the lawyer's feelings is likely to preclude adequate representation of the defendant. But if the court, in its discretion, denies the lawyer's request, the lawyer will fail to fulfill his professional obligations if he refuses to serve.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]