CONFLICTING INTERESTSPARTNERS OF CITYS MAYORNo member of a law firm, of which the Mayor of a city is a member, may represent clients before the citys corporation court, the judge of which is appointed by and removable at the will of the City Commission.
B, member of the law firm of B, C, D, & E, was elected Mayor of a Texas city. All members of the firm refrain from representing clients before the City Commission and before all appointive boards of the city. The judge of the corporation court is appointed by the City Commission and can be removed at will. Is it ethical for any member of the firm of B, C, D, & E to represent clients before the corporation court?
It is assumed, for the purposes of this opinion, that no provisions of the City Charter or other law would prohibit this representation, and that the question turns upon the Texas Canons of Ethics.
Disqualification of B would mean that every member of the law firm B, C, D, & E is disqualified; Opinions 23, 59, 65, 104, 132, 197. The determinative question, therefore, is whether a lawyer, the Mayor of a city and a member of its commission, may represent clients before a corporation court judge who was appointed by and is removal at the will of the City Commission.
Canon 6 states it is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests. Several Texas opinions appear to hold in substance, that a lawyer who is a public official is ethically disqualified under Canon 6 from representing a client in any matter as to which the lawyer has, as a public official, any discretion, potential duty, jurisdiction or control. See, e.g. Opinions 65 (city attorneys partner cannot represent a utility before the city council); 82 (city alderman may not defend criminal cases in the city court); 162 (legislator who secures passage of resolution permitting X to sue state for damages may not represent X in the suit against the state); 183 (District Attorney, County Attorney and County Judge); 187 (county attorneys partner may not defend criminal case in district court); and 197 (partner of member of city commission may not represent clients before the city commission); and compare Opinion 232. Some opinions, such as 23 and 108, possibly carry this trend toward disqualification even further. The Texas position, while strict, is in line with other authorities; see Drinker, Legal Ethics 118-119. Precedent requires the answer that it is not unethical for any member of the firm of B, C, D, & E to represent clients before the corporation court. (9-0)