Part-time prosecutor’s law firm allowed to represent criminal defendants

Elected county prosecutors and assistant prosecutors in Ohio are allowed to have private law practices, but a new advisory opinion examines the conflict of interest when it comes to their firms representing criminal defendants.

The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline has issued an advisory opinion that revisits an opinion from 1988. While Opinion 2014-2 does not deviate from the 1988 conclusion that Ohio’s professional ethics rules prohibit a part-time county prosecutor from representing criminal defendants, the board now concludes that the prosecutor’s private law firm may represent criminal cases under certain circumstances.

“After reviewing the rules that have been modified since the 1988 opinion was issued, the board has concluded that other lawyers in the firm are able to represent criminal defendants, as long as the part-time prosecutor is not involved in the case and does not financially benefit from the case,” Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline Secretary Rick Dove said.

The advisory opinion states:

  • The part-time prosecutor should be timely screened from the firm’s criminal defense cases and should not receive a fee from the firm’s criminal defense work.
  • Lawyers in the elected part-time prosecutor’s firm may not represent criminal defendants in the county in which the prosecutor is the elected official.
  • The part-time prosecutor should not oppose lawyers from the prosecutor’s firm.
  • Other lawyers in the prosecutor’s firm are statutorily-prohibited from accepting court-appointed criminal cases.
The board’s advisory opinions are informal and nonbinding and are in response to prospective or hypothetical questions regarding the application of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Judiciary, the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Attorney’s Oath of Office.

The board conducts hearings and issues findings and recommendations to the Supreme Court on ethical misconduct complaints against Ohio attorneys and judges. The board also engages in efforts to promote a greater understanding of and compliance with professional ethics standards.

Content courtesy of Court News Ohio.



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