Legal Ethics Opinion #1578       
       Confidences and Secrets - Appearance of Impropriety:
       Lawyer Representing Criminal Defendants and Renting
           Space in Office Building to City for Use By
                     Commonwealth's Attorney.
      You have presented a hypothetical situation in which an
    attorney and his law partner are sole stockholders in a
    corporation which owns an office building. The attorneys'
    offices are located on the first floor of the building and the
    attorneys want to lease to the City the second floor, which
    has a separate street number and separate entrance. You
    indicate that the City wants to use this space as an adjunct
    to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office and house secretarial
    staff and some Assistant Commonwealth's Attorneys. You further
    indicate that the sign on the door would say only "City of
    _____" and the space would not be for public access. You state
    that there would be no sharing of common areas, receptionists,
    law libraries, etc., between the two offices.
      Finally, you state that neither the attorneys' clients nor
    members of the Commonwealth's Attorney's staff could gain
    access to the other space from their respective spaces.
      You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the
    facts of the inquiry, there would be a conflict of interest
    for the attorney and his partner to represent clients charged
    with criminal offenses. For purposes of this 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 related
    to your inquiry are  DR:4-101, which provides for the
    preservation of client confidences and secrets; and  DR:9-
    101(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, in LE Op. 1416 that it
    is improper for an attorney/building owner 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 defendants who are being prosecuted by that
    Commonwealth's Attorney.
      The committee believes that your factual situation is
    readily distinguishable from that in LE Op. 1416 since the
    facts presented indicate that the attorneys and Commonwealth's
    Attorney would share no space, personnel or resources
    whatsoever. The facts also indicate that the offices would
    have separate entrances and that there would be no public
    access to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office. Under those
    circumstances, then, the committee is of the opinion that the
    problems of client confidentiality and public perception of
    impropriety are not present here. Thus, the committee opines
    that it would not be a conflict of interest for the attorney
    and his partner to represent clients charged with criminal
    offenses under these circumstances.
      Committee Opinion
      February 8, 1994