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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 66-53
September 1, 1966

A newly appointed county attorney may represent the county in trial proceedings in a condemnation suit in which he earlier represented owners of some of the parcels when: the owners of such parcels have procured other counsel, the parcels owned by them have been severed from the portion of the suit to be handled by the county attorney, other counsel would represent the county in the severed portion, the presiding judge has consented to the arrangement, the county attorney in his earlier representation acquired no special knowledge that would benefit the county or damage the land owners, and the clients and the board of county commissioners consent.

Canon: 6

Chairman MacDonald stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar advises that he has recently been appointed attorney for the Board of County Commissioners of his county. Approximately two years ago a law firm of which he was then a partner was retained to represent owners of four parcels of land in a condemnation suit brought by the county. The suit was dismissed and later reinstated against the same parcels. In the second suit the attorney was retained to represent owners of two parcels, and his former firm continued to represent the owners of the four parcels previously mentioned.

His duties as county attorney require prosecution of condemnation suits. This suit in question is large (54 parcels being presently scheduled for early trial). The size of the county is such that the county would encounter difficulty in retaining other local counsel proficient in this type litigation. There is available, as hereafter mentioned, occasional and limited assistance from the State Road Department.

In this context this attorney states:

I have obtained other representation for the landowners of the parcels which I have represented in the current suit and with their consent, the consent of my former partner and after conferring with the presiding judge, have arranged for these six parcels to be tried separately by an attorney for the State Road Department. I will not be involved in the trial of these parcels in any way.

I do not have any special knowledge as a result of representing landowners in this suit which would benefit the county or damage the landowners of other parcels.

In these circumstances we see no conflict of interests as defined in Canon 6 involved in the attorney representing the county in the trial of the portion of the suit relating to parcels other than six which are the subject of the severance. He is not engaged in representing his former clients against the county, nor in representing the county against them. There is nothing stemming from his former representation helpful or harmful to any party in the portion of the suit to be tried by him. There is nothing more than a question of geographic proximity involved. Ethical proscriptions must, of course, be grounded in the necessity for the maintenance of public confidence in the affairs of the Bar and its members, particularly those charged with representing an inarticulate public. We find nothing here which in any way detracts from such confidence. Indeed the solution, apparently sanctioned by the Court, is to be commended as one meeting not only the pragmatic realities but also the letter and spirit of the Canon.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]