FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
May 25, 1977
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
An attorney who is a reserve police officer and also functions as “legal officer” for the reserve
policemen of a community may not engage in criminal defense work in the court to which
reserve police officers make arrest citations returnable nor in other courts in the same
Note: This opinion is partially overruled by opinion 78-7.
74-37, 74-37 (Reconsideration)
Vice Chairman Lehan stated the opinion of the committee:
An attorney is a reserve police officer and also functions as “legal officer” for
the reserve police in a community, rendering legal opinions for the reserve police.
Reserve police officers, while performing their official duties, perform all law
enforcement functions of full-time police officers, including the making of court
The attorney asks whether he may engage in criminal defense work (a) in the
court to which police officers, including reserve police officers, make arrest
citations returnable, and (b) in other courts in the same geographical area.
The Committee answers both questions in the negative.
In Opinion 74-37 this Committee felt that a law firm may not represent the local sheriff in
civil matters and at the same time engage in criminal defense work due to conflict of interest and
appearance of impropriety.
Likewise, under the circumstances of the present inquiry both the appearance of
impropriety and conflict of interest could exist. More specifically, as to question (a), the potential
conflict exists in that, as criminal defense attorney, the attorney could be called upon to attack
the credibility of the police officers whom he not only represents but with whom he is officially
associated. Also, the appearance of impropriety may result from the possibility that the attorney
could, through his representation of the reserve police, and in his capacity as a police officer,
gain information or access to information which would not otherwise be available to him.
As to (b), even though the attorney, while acting as a criminal defense attorney in courts
in which such police officers apparently do not appear as witnesses, apparently would not be
called upon to attack the credibility of those officers, the appearance of impropriety would seem
to exist due to cooperation and exchange of information between various law enforcement
agencies, commonly known, or thought, to exist to varying degrees.
See also our Opinion 74-37 where the Committee felt that even when an attorney who
represents the sheriff in civil matters does not, in fact, have access to information in the sheriff’s
office which might be used in criminal cases (the sheriff’s office being divided into separate
departments, civil and criminal), the attorney may not also engage in criminal defense work due
to the appearance of impropriety.
One member of the Committee is of the opinion that if the inquirer is on call but in fact
rarely called as a reserve officer, he is not disqualified in cases other than those in which the
municipality he serves is the prosecuting entity.