FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
An attorney who serves as police legal advisor on retainer for a municipality may represent
persons charged with criminal offenses in the courts of the county in cases which do not involve
police officers or other personnel of the municipality.
DR 5-105; Canon 9
Mr. Mead stated the opinion of the committee:
The Committee has been asked whether an attorney who serves as police
legal advisor on retainer for a municipality may represent persons charged with
criminal offenses in the courts of the county in cases which do not involve police
officers or other personnel of the municipality.
In Opinion 74-37 this Committee stated that a law firm could not represent the local
sheriff in civil matters while at the same time engaging in criminal defense work arising out of
arrests made by the Sheriff’s Department. The conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety
in this situation is obvious. In Opinion 76-43 this Committee found that an attorney who was a
reserve police officer and functioned as a legal advisor for the reserve policemen of a community
could not engage in criminal defense work in the court where the police officers appeared nor in
other courts in the same geographical area.
DR 5-105 prohibits a lawyer from accepting representation if the exercise of his
independent professional judgment on behalf of a client would be likely to be adversely affected
thereby. Canon 9 requires that a lawyer avoid even the appearance of professional impropriety.
As to DR 5-105, under the circumstances of this inquiry the Committee feels that as long as the
lawyer does not appear in the municipal court, or handle cases where police officers or other
employees of the municipality are involved in any way, there is no reason to believe that his
independent professional judgment will be adversely affected. With regard to Canon 9, although
we caution the attorney to avoid the appearance of impropriety, we think this possibility must be
real and not remote. It is the present Committee’s belief that the facts presented do not warrant a
finding that an actual appearance of impropriety exists and, to the extent that 76-43 would
prevent a lawyer who serves as police legal advisor for a municipality from representing criminal
defendants through the entire county, we overrule that opinion. Accordingly, it is the opinion of
the majority of the Committee that the attorney may engage in the proposed conduct.
One dissenting member of the Committee feels that the appearance of professional
impropriety in this case, when viewed by the public, is substantial enough to require that the
attorney’s conduct be proscribed.