The Florida Bar
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OPINION 78-7
An attorney who serves as police legal advisor on retainer for a municipality may represent persons charged with criminal offenses in the courts of the county in cases which do not involve police officers or other personnel of the municipality.

CPR: DR 5-105; Canon 9
Opinions: 74-37, 76-43

Mr. Mead stated the opinion of the committee:

The Committee has been asked whether an attorney who serves as police legal advisor on retainer for a municipality may represent persons charged with criminal offenses in the courts of the county in cases which do not involve police officers or other personnel of the municipality.

In Opinion 74-37 this Committee stated that a law firm could not represent the local sheriff in civil matters while at the same time engaging in criminal defense work arising out of arrests made by the Sheriff's Department. The conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety in this situation is obvious. In Opinion 76-43 this Committee found that an attorney who was a reserve police officer and functioned as a legal advisor for the reserve policemen of a community could not engage in criminal defense work in the court where the police officers appeared nor in other courts in the same geographical area.

DR 5-105 prohibits a lawyer from accepting representation if the exercise of his independent professional judgment on behalf of a client would be likely to be adversely affected thereby. Canon 9 requires that a lawyer avoid even the appearance of professional impropriety. As to DR 5-105, under the circumstances of this inquiry the Committee feels that as long as the lawyer does not appear in the municipal court, or handle cases where police officers or other employees of the municipality are involved in any way, there is no reason to believe that his independent professional judgment will be adversely affected. With regard to Canon 9, although we caution the attorney to avoid the appearance of impropriety, we think this possibility must be real and not remote. It is the present Committee's belief that the facts presented do not warrant a finding that an actual appearance of impropriety exists and, to the extent that 76-43 would prevent a lawyer who serves as police legal advisor for a municipality from representing criminal defendants through the entire county, we overrule that opinion. Accordingly, it is the opinion of the majority of the Committee that the attorney may engage in the proposed conduct.

One dissenting member of the Committee feels that the appearance of professional impropriety in this case, when viewed by the public, is substantial enough to require that the attorney's conduct be proscribed.




[Revised: 08-24-2011]