The Florida Bar
(February 18, 1975)

Members of a law firm that represents the local sheriff in civil matters may not engage in criminal defense work because of the possibility of a conflict of interest.

Note: This opinion is partially overruled by Opinion 96-2.

Opinions: 68­35, 70­11, 70­38, 71­7, 71­9 and 71­17

Vice Chairman Sullivan stated the opinion of the committee:

A law firm represents the local Sheriff in civil matters. A member of the firm is active in criminal defense practice and, before accepting representation in any matter arising out of arrest or action by the Sheriff's Department, advises each client that the firm represents the Sheriff. The Sheriff is aware that a member of the firm practices criminal law. In fact, the attorney in the firm with the criminal law practice sometimes substitutes for the attorney who usually handles civil matters for the Sheriff.

A member of the firm asks whether the firm may properly continue both the representation of the Sheriff and the criminal defense practice.

A majority of the Committee believes that this would be improper because it would involve at least an appearance of impropriety and a possible conflict of interest. The appearance of impropriety results from the possibility that a member of the firm could through representation of the Sheriff in civil matters gain information or access to information he could use in criminal defense matters and which would otherwise not be available to him, even though he did not in fact obtain or use it. The possibility of a conflict of interest occurs from the fact that defense of a criminal matter could involve attacking the credibility of the Sheriff or employees in his office.

For prior Opinions dealing with analogous questions see: 68­35,

70­11 [since withdrawn], 70­38, 71­7 [since withdrawn], 71­9 and 71­17.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]