The Florida Bar once prohibited lawyer-legislators from working at law firms that lobby the Legislature (Opinions 59-31& 67-5). The opinions stated it created an “inescapable conflict of interest”. It was true then and is true today.
I served twelve years in the Florida Legislature and I know that the conflict is unpreventable. Lawyers have a fiduciary duty to their firm’s clients which conflicts with their duty to the public. In 1999 the Board of Governors, contrary to the recommendation of the Professional Ethics Committee, repealed the prohibition under pressure from lobbying law firms.
At the beginning of this year the Legislature was flooded with lawyers working for lobbying firms including the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House. It would be imprudent for any entity, with an interest in passing or killing legislation, not to hire a law firm with a member in the Legislature. I have spent two years trying to convince The Florida Bar to reinstate Ethics Opinion 67-5. The Professional Ethics Committee voted 30 to 2 in favor of my request for reinstatement. The full Board of Governors never considered my request. A committee of the Board, with several members of lobbying firms who should have recused themselves, denied my request. The Board of Governors indifference, to the unconscionable corruption in this inescapable conflict of interest, significantly contributes to the poor public opinion of lawyers’ integrity.
Tom Gallen FBN 27440
Former State Senator