Legal Ethics Opinion No. 1416

 Commonwealth's Attorney--Appearance of Impropriety--Confidences
and Secrets: Attorney Who Represents Criminal Clients Renting to,
        and Office-Sharing With, Commonwealth's Attorney 

You have indicated that an attorney and his wife, as co-owners of
an office building, have entered into a lease agreement with the
Commonwealth's Attorney.  The attorney maintains his law office
on the first floor of the building and the Commonwealth's
Attorney's office is on the second floor.  You further indicate
that there is no commingling of files or any other matters, but
the attorney and the Commonwealth's Attorney share a law library,
a common waiting room, and a receptionist who answers the
telephone for both offices and directs clients to the appropriate
office from the common waiting room.

You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the facts of
the inquiry, it is proper for the attorney to represent clients
charged with criminal conduct.  For purposes of the opinion, the
committee assumes that the potential clients are charged in the
same jurisdiction where the offices are located and where the
Commonwealth's Attorney/tenant serves as prosecutor.

The appropriate and controlling disciplinary rules relative to
your inquiry are DR 4-l0l, which provides for the preservation of
a client's confidences and secrets and DR 9-l0l(C), which states
that, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, "[a]
lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence
improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative
body, or public official."

The committee has previously opined that it is improper for an
attorney to lease office space from a judge if the attorney plans
to practice law regularly before that judge.  See LEO #368. 
Similarly, the committee opined that it is improper for an
attorney to serve as a court-appointed lawyer in commitment
proceedings before a special justice when the special justice is
also the attorney's office landlord.  See LEO #791.  In addition,
LEO #677 found that it was improper for attorneys to share office
space and secretarial help while representing opposite sides in a
divorce action.

In the facts you present, the committee believes it would be
extremely difficult for the attorney to preserve the confidences
and secrets of his clients.  While it is unlikely that the
attorney's criminal defendant clients would think that their
interests were somehow being represented by the Commonwealth's
Attorney [see LEO #4l3], the committee is concerned that the
lease arrangement between the attorney and the Commonwealth's
Attorney would permit those clients and the public to perceive
that the interests of the attorney's criminal defendant clients
would be enhanced because of the simultaneous landlord/tenant
relationship.  See LEO #l203; see also Indiana Op. U-4 (undated

Thus, the committee is of the opinion that it would be improper
for an attorney who leases office space to a Commonwealth's
Attorney, while also sharing a common waiting room, a
receptionist who answers the telephone for both, and a law
library, to simultaneously represent criminal defendant clients
who are being prosecuted by that Commonwealth's Attorney.

Committee Opinion 
May 13, 1991