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RPC 65

July 14, 1989

Representation of Codefendants by the Public Defender

 

Opinion rules that the Public Defender's office should be considered as a single law firm and that staff attorneys may not represent codefendants with conflicting interests unless both consent and can be adequately represented.

 

Inquiry:

 

The Public Defender's Office in County Z consists of the Public Defender and several staff lawyers and secretaries. The Public Defender is responsible for assigning the cases to himself and his staff and he sets their salaries, with the approval of the courts. Occasionally, several staff lawyers will work on a single case and staff lawyers often discuss their cases with the other lawyers in the office either informally or at staff meetings. All members of the staff share the same office space and secretaries.

 

May attorneys A and B of the Public Defender's staff ethically represent codefendants with conflicting interests?

 

Opinion:

 

The Public Defender's office should be considered to be the equivalent of a single law firm since its members share office space and clerical staff and are directed by a single individual. Two staff attorneys within a single public defender's office may not represent codefendants with adverse interests unless 1) the attorneys reasonably believe that they may adequately represent both clients' interests and 2) both clients consent after full disclosure of the risks involved. See Rules 5.1(a), 5.11. Determining whether the staff attorneys can "reasonably" conclude that they can adequately represent both codefendants will turn on the particular facts of each case, such as the extent of the conflict between the codefendants and the ability of the attorneys to restrict access to each client's files and confidences.

 

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