The Florida Bar
May 9, 1978

Note: This opinion was re-affirmed by the Professional Ethics Committee at its April 10, 2006 meeting.

An attorney who by contract represents the county commission, not individual members, may not represent an individual commissioner before the Florida Ethics Commission in a matter involving misuse of public office. Such representation would present an inherent conflict and the appearance of impropriety.

CPR: EC 5-14, DR 5-105

Vice Chairman Waas stated the opinion of the committee:

The inquiring attorney asks whether a professional conflict would arise under the following circumstances:

A county commissioner is charged before the ethics commission with misuse of public office in directing county employees to work on private property during normal working hours with county road equipment. The subject commissioner asks the county attorney to represent him as legal counsel. The county attorney is on contract with the county and engages in the private practice of law in addition to his work for the county.

The Committee finds that the above situation represents an inherent conflict and the appearance of impropriety. DR 5-105 commands a lawyer to refuse multiple employment if his professional judgment will be or is likely to be adversely affected by representation of another client. Additionally, EC 5-14 provides that:

Maintaining the independence of professional judgment required of a lawyer precludes his acceptance or continuation of employment that will adversely affect his judgment on behalf of or dilute his loyalty to a client. This problem arises whenever a lawyer is asked to represent two or more clients who may have differing interests, whether such interests be conflicting, inconsistent, diverse or otherwise discordant.

A county attorney represents the county commission, not the individual members serving on it. He places his responsibility as county attorney in jeopardy when he accepts an engagement to represent a particular commissioner before the Florida Ethics Commission.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]