CEO 90-45 -- June 14, 1990
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CITY POLICE OFFICERS PRIVATELY EMPLOYED TO SERVE CIVIL PROCESS
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
A prohibited conflict of interest would be created under Section 112.313(7)(a) and Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes, were a municipal police officer to be employed privately to serve subpoenas and other forms of civil process, as the officers would have access to information unavailable to the general public which could benefit their private employers. CEO 83-46, CEO 89-43, and CEO 90-33 are referenced.
Does a prohibited conflict of interest exist where a sworn law enforcement (police) officer privately contracts to serve civil process for attorneys and private investigators?
Your question is answered in the affirmative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that . . . . and . . . . are full-time, sworn police officers and that they are engaged privately in serving subpoenas and other forms of civil process. The majority of this private work involves being paid by private attorneys or investigators to locate individuals for the purpose of serving civil process.
You believe that, as special process servers, these individuals could benefit from their positions as sworn law enforcement officers by having access to information and the means for obtaining information which would be unavailable to the general public. As an example, you reference these officers' access to the Florida Crime Information Center/National Crime Information Center Computer system.
Applicable provisions of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees include Section 112.313(7)(a) and Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes, which state, respectively:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP.--No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties.
DISCLOSURE OR USE OF CERTAIN INFORMATION.--No public officer or employee of an agency shall disclose or use information not available to members of the general public and gained by reason of his official position for his personal gain or benefit or for the personal gain or benefit of any other person or business entity.
In CEO 83-46, we determined that Section 112.313(7)(a) and Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes, could be violated were a municipal police officer to be employed as a private investigator. As a basis for finding a conflict in CEO 83-46, we noted the officer's access to information unavailable to the general public which could benefit his private employer. For similar reasons, in CEO 89-43 we found that a deputy sheriff could not be employed as a private investigator.
In CEO 90-33, we determined that a prohibited conflict of interest would not be created were a municipal police officer to perform financial consulting and research for private law firms, where neither his work nor the firms employing him had any need for information available to the police officer through his public duties. In that opinion, the police officer was not "called upon in his private capacity to engage in service of process"; nor was he called upon to use information which was not available to the general public.
In CEO 75-128, we determined that a prohibited conflict of interest would be created where an assistant public defender and a public defender investigator owned a material interest in a private corporation engaged in the business of serving witness subpoenas for private attorneys. In that situation, we felt that the service could involve someone represented by the public defender's office, leading to the appearance of impropriety and possibly affecting a trial.
It is possible that one of the officers could be called upon to serve process on someone under investigation by or otherwise involved with the police department. You also state that information is available to these individuals in their public capacity as police officers which is not available to the general public and which would be helpful to them and their private employers in serving process. On the basis of our analysis in CEO 83-46, CEO 89-43, CEO 75-128, and CEO 90-33, we therefore find that a prohibited conflict of interest exists here.
Accordingly, we find that a prohibited conflict of interest exists where the subject police officers privately are employed to serve civil process.