Advancing a Client's Fine
Opinion rules that a lawyer may advance his client's fine.
Perry Mason devotes a substantial portion of his practice to the defense of the criminally accused. He is often retained at the last minute to represent individuals who are unable to come to court for waivable offenses. These individuals may reside out of state, be away on business, or just unable to miss a day of school or work. The local district attorney's office often offers favorable plea bargains only on the first court date, and either withdraws or offers a less favorable plea bargain if the case is continued. Consequently, counsel is compelled to waive the client's appearance, accept the favorable offer, and the consequently more favorable judgment.
May an attorney, under this fact situation, advance the fine and court costs on behalf of his client, as long as he expects to seek reimbursement from his client?
Yes. Rule 5.3(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, while generally prohibiting the lending of living expenses to a client, does permit a lawyer to advance court costs on the client's behalf from the lawyer's own funds while representing the client in connection with pending litigation so long as the client remains ultimately liable for the expense. Although the advancement of fines is not expressly permitted, there appears to be no principled distinction between such penalties and the other kinds of expenses which may be legitimately advanced such as court costs, expenses of investigation, expenses of medical examination, and the costs of obtaining and presenting evidence. Nor would the policies which underlie Rule 5.3(b) seem to warrant the prohibition of such a loan. The advancement of fines is unlikely to create a conflict of interest which would compromise the lawyer's professional judgment in a criminal case. It is also unlikely that a lawyer would suggest his willingness to advance a fine in order to solicit a criminal case.