Lawyer Serving on Hospital Ethics Committee
Opinion rules that an attorney serving on a hospital ethics committee is not automatically disqualified from representing interests adverse to the hospital or its staff physicians.
Attorney A is a member of an advisory ethics committee for a local hospital. The ethics committee functions in an advisory capacity rather than in a decision-making capacity. The functions of the ethics committee can include consultation, education and advice on policy. The committee is not involved in any disciplinary decision-making. Attorney A does not represent the ethics committee as an attorney but merely serves as a member of the committee who happens to be an attorney. Under the circumstances, may Attorney A file a civil action against a doctor who is on the staff of the hospital or the hospital itself? The civil action would not involve facts arising out of any situation which the ethics committee has reviewed or considered. Would the answer be different if the committee was a regular staff committee of the hospital as opposed to an administrative advisory committee?
Attorney A would not be automatically disqualified from representing an interest adverse to that of the hospital or one of its staff doctors by virtue of her service as a member of the hospital's advisory ethics committee. While Attorney A's personal relationship to the hospital could, under some circumstances, materially limit Attorney A's capacity to represent a party in litigation adverse to the hospital, it seems possible under these facts that Attorney A could represent the third party after forming the reasonable belief that her representation of the client would not be adversely affected. The attorney should seek and obtain the consent of the client to the representation upon full disclosure of her relationship with the hospital. Rule 5.1(b)(1)(2). The attorney should also consider the appearance of impropriety that might be raised by representing a client against the hospital. Canon IX.
The answer would be the same if Attorney A served upon a regular administrative committee of the hospital. There would be no automatic disqualification, and resolution of the question would turn upon whether the lawyer might reasonably believe that her representation of the client would not be adversely affected and whether the client wished to consent upon full disclosure.