FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
February 1, 1977
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A law firm that represents the local sheriff either individually or in connection with official
duties may not engage in criminal defense work in that same jurisdiction unless the
representation of the sheriff is so casual or sporadic so as not to create the appearance of
Vice Chairman Lehan stated the opinion of the committee:
A lawyer inquires as to the scope of this Committee’s Opinion 74-37 saying
that members of a law firm which represents the local sheriff in civil matters may
not engage in criminal defense work in that same jurisdiction because of possible
conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety.
This inquiry involves whether a firm which represents the local sheriff in
criminal matters from time to time, e.g., alleged police brutality cases, and is not
on a retainer is within the scope of Opinion 74-37.
The Committee believes that Opinion 74-37 applies whether the firm represents the
sheriff in either civil or criminal matters, or both, and applies whether the firm represents the
sheriff on a retainer basis or on some other fairly regular basis (and not a totally irregular,
sporadic, or isolated basis) which would, or might, establish the firm in the public’s mind as
having access to information useful in criminal defense matters which would not otherwise be
available to it.
The lawyer further asks whether Opinion 74-37 would preclude criminal defense work in
that jurisdiction if the firm does not represent the sheriff’s office in connection with official
duties, either civilly or criminally, but represents the sheriff individually or represents individual
deputies in personal matters. The Committee feels that Opinion 74-37 is applicable to these
circumstances also unless the representation is so casual or sporadic or unrelated in time to the
firm’s criminal defense work as to not create the appearance, however erroneous, that it has
access to information in the sheriff’s office it could use in criminal defense matters and which
would not otherwise be available to it.