FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
February 23, 1981
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A law firm may not defend long-time clients on traffic law violations in the county court when
the law firm represents the county government and its elected officials, including the clerk of the
circuit and county courts, the comptroller and the sheriff’s department. Such conduct would
involve a conflict of interests and the appearance of impropriety.
Canon 5, EC 5-14, DR 5-105(A), (C), Canon 9
72-9, 74-37, 77-30, 78-8
Vice Chairman Mead stated the opinion of the committee:
The inquiring lawyer asks whether members of his firm may defend long-time
clients on traffic law violations in the county court when his law firm represents
the county government and its elected officials, including the clerk of the circuit
and county courts, the comptroller and the sheriff’s department.
In Opinion 72-9 this Committee found it improper for a law firm to represent litigants
seeking personal injury damages arising out of automobile accidents within a municipality when
a member of that firm was employed by the municipality to prosecute violations of the
municipality’s ordinances. In Opinions 74-37 and 78-8 members of a law firm which represented
the local sheriff in civil matters could not engage in criminal defense work in the same county
because of the possibility of a conflict of interest in violation of DR 5-105. In Opinion 77-30 this
Committee used the same reasoning to find it improper for a county attorney to represent a
county commissioner charged with misuse of public office.
It is the Committee’s opinion that the proposed course of conduct would clearly involve a
conflict of interests and is proscribed by Canon 5. DR 5-105(A) requires a lawyer to refuse
multiple employment if his professional judgment on behalf of a client will be or is likely to be
adversely affected by his representation of another client. This requirement is confirmed by EC
5-14. The only exception to this rule against multiple representation is set forth in DR 5-105(C),
which permits such representation, after full disclosure, only if “it is obvious that he can
adequately represent the interest of each.” We do not believe the facts presented come within this
exception. Further, the multiple representation proposed here would create a definite appearance
of impropriety contrary to the mandate of Canon 9.
For the above reasons, this inquiry must be answered in the negative.