CEO 83-25 -- April 21, 1983
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
STATE SENATOR REPRESENTING PRIVATE CLIENTS IN SUITS AGAINST COUNTY WATER AUTHORITY
To: The Honorable Richard H. Langley, State Senator, District 11
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created under the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees or the Sunshine Amendment to the Florida Constitution were a State Senator who is an attorney to represent clients in a lawsuit filed against a county water authority. Such representation would not violate Article II, Section 8(e), Florida Constitution, as it would be before the courts. Nor is there any provision of the Code of Ethics which would prohibit this representation. CEO 75-197 and CEO 77-22 are referenced in this regard as well as CEO 77-129 and CEO 80-7, which concern a legislator voting on matters affecting a private client.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created under the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees or the Sunshine Amendment to the Florida Constitution were you, a State Senator and private attorney, to represent clients in a lawsuit filed against a county water authority?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you have been elected as State Senator for the 11th District, which includes all of Sumter County. In addition, you advise that you have been retained by a group of taxpayers as a private attorney to sue the Sumter County Water Authority for what appears to be a pattern of illegal activities concerning the collection of taxes under the special act which created the Authority in 1953. You question whether the representation of your clients in this lawsuit would present a conflict of interest which would necessitate your withdrawing from the case.
The Sunshine Amendment, in Article II, Section 8(e), Florida Constitution, provides in part:
No member of the legislature shall personally represent another person or entity for compensation during term of office before any state agency other than judicial tribunals.
While this provision would prohibit you from personally representing a client for compensation before most State agencies, it would not prohibit you from representing that client in litigation before the courts. Nor do we find any provision of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees which would prohibit the representation you have described. See CEO 75-197, in which we advised that a legislator may serve as city attorney or attorney for a special taxing district, and CEO 77-22, in which we advised that a legislator may represent a client in a rezoning matter before a county commission.
We note that you currently serve as a member of the Senate Natural Resources and Conservation Committee. As it is possible that legislation which might affect the County Water Authority might come before this Committee, we refer you to previous opinions CEO 77-129 and CEO 80-7, regarding a legislator voting on matters affecting a private client.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest exists in your representation of private clients in a lawsuit against a County Water Authority. You also may wish to contact the Florida Bar for an opinion regarding your obligation under the Code of Professional Responsibility in this situation.