FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
October 29, 1973
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A blanket refusal by a lawyer to accept court appointments to defend indigents in criminal cases
would be contrary to his professional obligations. However, a lawyer may make his objections to
representation of such criminal defendant’s known to the court and request to be relieved, relying
on the court’s discretion.
Canon 2, EC 2-29
Committeeman Kittleson stated the opinion of the committee:
The Board of Governors of The Florida Bar has requested the Professional
Ethics Committee for advice on this question: Does a lawyer violate Canon 2 of
the Code of Professional Responsibility when he declines all court appointments
to represent indigent defendants in criminal prosecutions on the sole ground that
there is a possibility that his skills would be used to achieve an acquittal of a
guilty person, a result that would be extremely repugnant to the lawyer? The
question does not involve any plea of incompetence or inability to carry out the
appointment on other grounds, and, on the contrary, the question presupposes that
the lawyer has a good measure of pertinent skills and experiences. The question
does not involve religious principles.
Canon 2 calls for lawyers to assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to make legal
counsel available. When a lawyer is appointed by a court to undertake representation of a person
unable to obtain counsel, he should not seek to be excused except for compelling reasons, and
compelling reasons do not include the repugnance to the lawyer of the subject matter or of the
defendant, or the lawyer’s belief that the defendant is guilty. Ethical Consideration 2-29. The
consensus of the Committee is that blanket refusal by a lawyer to accept court appointments,
under the circumstances set forth in the question, would be non-fulfillment of his professional
obligations. If a lawyer has strong and genuine feelings of the kind presented here, he may
properly make those feelings known to the court and request that he not be appointed or that his
appointment be rescinded. It is unlikely that a judge will force a lawyer to carry out an
appointment if the judge believes that the intensity of the lawyer’s feelings is likely to preclude
adequate representation of the defendant. But if the court, in its discretion, denies the lawyer’s
request, the lawyer will fail to fulfill his professional obligations if he refuses to serve.