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Ethics Opinions from the Bar Association of San Francisco

INFORMAL OPINION 1973-19

Since representing a wife in an uncontested divorce action six years ago, an attorney has represented the husband in three criminal actions. The attorney may not now represent the wife against the husband for delinquent support payments where (a) the husband objects, and (b) the attorney may have previously acquired knowledge from the husband of his financial affairs.

QUESTION:

An attorney represented a wife in a divorce action approximately six years ago. The action was uncontested and he had no contact with the husband. Subsequently the husband came to him for representation in a criminal matter and he thereafter represented the husband in two other criminal matters. Recently, the wife came back to him for representation in a failure to support action against the husband. The husband has vowed to make such representation embarrassing for the attorney on grounds of conflict of interest. May the attorney represent the wife?

OPINION:

No. Rule 5 provides that an attorney may not accept employment adverse to a former client without the consent of the former client relating to a matter in reference to which he has obtained confidential information by reason of or in the course of his employment by such former client. Rule 7 provides that a member of the State Bar shall not represent conflicting interests, except with the consent of all parties concerned, and ABA, Canon 5 and Disciplinary Rules and Ethical Consideration there under require that all doubts concerning the propriety of multiple representation be resolved against it. Because the husband objects, and because the attorney probably obtained information regarding the husband's bank accounts, debts, etc. as a result of his past representation, which could constitute confidential information which bears on the action for enforcement of support, representation of the wife should not be undertaken, i.e., if there is the slightest doubt, representation should be declined.

All opinions of the Committee are subject to the following disclaimer:
Opinions rendered by the Ethics Committee are an uncompensated service of The Bar Association of San Francisco. Opinions are advisory only, and no liability whatsoever is assumed by the Committee or The Bar Association of San Francisco in rendering such opinions, and the opinions are relied upon at the risk of the user thereof. Opinions of the Committee are not binding in any manner upon the State Bar of California, the Board of Governors, any disciplinary committee, The Bar Association of San Francisco, or the individual members of the Ethics Committee.

In using these opinions you should be aware that subsequent judicial opinions and revised rules of professional conduct may have dealt with the areas covered by these ethics opinions.

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