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The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



Opinion No. 5657

February 21, 1980


Police officers

An attorney practicing law in a township may also be a township police officer.

Honorable William Faust

State Senator

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan

Honorable Thomas H. Brown

State Representative

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan

You have requested my opinion on a question which may be stated as follows:

May an attorney practicing law in a township also serve as a police officer of that township?

The revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, Sec. 586; MCLA 600.586; MSA 27A.586, provides:

'Any sheriff, deputy sheriff, or coroner who:

'(a) appears in any court as attorney or counsel for or in behalf of any party in any action, or

'(b) draws, makes, of fills out any writ, complaint, or process for any party, or

'(c) with the intent to procure himself to be employed in the collection of any demand or the service of any process, advises or counsels any person to commence any action or proceeding shall forfeit the sum of $150.00. This section shall not apply to deputy sheriffs who are specially appointed to serve in advisory capacities and who do not serve civil process.'

1961 PA 236, Sec. 586, supra, prohibits a sheriff or deputy sheriff from representing a party in court because they are court officers with the power to serve process. This prohibition is clear in light of 1961 PA 236, Sec. 586(c), supra, which declares '[t]his section shall not apply to deputy sheriffs who are specially appointed to serve in advisory capacities and who do not serve civil process.' 1961 PA 236, Sec. 586, supra, does not refer to law enforcement personnel other than a sheriff, deputy sheriff, or coroner.

According to the Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics of the State Bar of Michigan, an attorney who holds public office owes primary allegiance to the public position which is served. Formal Ethics Opinion 183 (December, 1960). An attorney must avoid the potential of conflicting allegiance which may arise in representing clients with incompatible claims. As a township police officer must enforce state and local laws, the obligation of faithful law enforcement precludes the police officer from accepting as an attorney criminal cases which arise within the township under state or local law. See Formal Opinion C212 (March 14, 1975). Furthermore, an attorney who acts as a police officer must avoid using the public office to further a client's cause. 1971 Code of Professional Responsibility. (1)

However, a municipality or agency thereof may prohibit outside employment of its law enforcement personnel,

'[t]he courts generally taking the view that the duties of such officers are peculiarly connected with the public health and safety, so that it is particularly important that they not be subject to outside interests which might conflict with their official duties by diluting their energies, occupying time during which they are at least potentially on call, or involving themselves in situations where they might be motivated to neglect or subvert their official functions.' (Footnote omitted) 56 Am Jur 2d, Municipal Corporations, Sec. 322, p 356.

Absent such prohibition, however, observation of the Code of Professional Responsibility is the only proscription relevant to the practice of law by an attorney who is also a police officer within the township.

It is, therefore, my opinion that an attorney may serve as a township police officer.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

(1) Adopted by Order of the Michigan Supreme Court, 385 Mich lvi (October 4, 1971), DR8-101(A)(2).


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