The Florida Bar

November 1, 1961

A lawyer may not represent a husband in an action arising out of his wife's death in an automobile accident when the lawyer, in his capacity as coroner, was involved in a criminal proceeding arising out of the same accident.

Canons: 6, Judicial Canons 1, 13, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 31, 34

Chairman Holcomb stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar inquires of the Professional Ethics Committee concerning his representation of Mr. A in a suit for damages for the death of Mrs. A resulting from an automobile accident in which he, as coroner, investigated the accident, impaneled a jury, heard the evidence and received a verdict of culpable negligence on the part of the driver. He therefore issued a warrant charging manslaughter, the defendant appeared before him and waived preliminary hearing and was bound over to the Circuit Court. Shortly after the accident and prior to the several hearings, he met Mr. A and entered into a contract of employment to represent Mr. A in a suit for damages, in which the member later associated an additional lawyer. The question is whether he can legally or ethically represent the widowed husband under the circumstances or whether he should withdraw from the civil action.

With one member dissenting, the Committee is unanimous in its opinion that he should immediately withdraw and sever all connections with the case. We feel that he has perhaps violated the following canons of ethics: Canon 1 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics; Canon 13 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to influence; Canon 24 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to inconsistent obligations; Canon 25 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to business promotions; Canon 29 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to self-interest; Canon 31 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to private law practice; and Canon 34 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics relating to a summary of judicial obligations. It is also possible that he has violated Judicial Canons 27 and 28 and Canon 6 of the Canons of Professional Ethics relating to adverse influences and conflicting interests.

Drinker, Legal Ethics, page 119, states: “A lawyer who is a justice of the peace may not represent one charged with an offense, civil or criminal, in connection with which he has issued a warrant.”

[Revised: 08-24-2011]