Opinion 74-37 (Reconsidered)
FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
OPINION 74-37 (Reconsideration)
July 23, 1975
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
Even though a sheriff’s office is divided into a civil department and a criminal department, and
members of a firm who represent the Sheriff in civil matters are not privy to information that might
be used in the defense of a criminal case, the possibility or probability of a conflict of interests still
Note: This opinion is partially overruled by opinion 96-2.
Vice Chairman Sullivan stated the opinion of the committee:
After publication of our Opinion 74-37, the inquiring attorney asked the
Committee to reconsider that opinion in the light of the following additional facts:
1. The Sheriff’s office is completely divided into a Civil Department and a
Criminal Department. The law firm of which the inquiring attorney is a member
represents the Sheriff only in administrative and most civil matters (insurance
company attorneys represent the Sheriff on some liability claims).
2. The law firm has no access to any information in the Sheriff’s office which
might be used in a criminal case. The Sheriff, who is in reality an administrative
officer, rarely, if ever, appears in court. The law firm would not handle any criminal
defense case in which there was any possibility the Sheriff might appear as a witness.
3. The attorney in the firm with the criminal defense practice, who occasionally
represented the Sheriff in civil matters, substituting for other members of the firm, no
longer personally handles any matters for the Sheriff.
The Committee adheres to its former opinion. Even though the attorneys in the firm who
represent the Sheriff in civil and administrative matters are not privy to information that might be
used in the defense of a criminal case, the possibility, perhaps the probability, remains that they will
have conversations and communications with the Sheriff’s subordinates — deputies, investigators
and others — who would be involved in criminal proceedings.
Even though those conversations and communications did not involve information that
could be used in defense of a criminal matter, the Committee is of the opinion that the appearance
of impropriety resulting from those relationships remains. Even though the firm would not handle
any criminal defense matter in which the Sheriff might appear as a witness, the possibility of a
conflict of interest remains because the attorney in the firm with the criminal defense practice might
have to attack in court the credibility of some of the Sheriff’s subordinates with whom his law
partners come into contact and with whom they converse and communicate while representing the
Sheriff in civil and administrative matters.