Can An Attorney Witness Be Granted Statutory Immunity from Disciplinary Proceedings ?
In DeBock v. State, 512 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1987) attorney DeBock was subpoenaed for testimony in connection with criminal charges pending against attorney Rendina for offering unlawful compensation to DeBock while DeBock was an assistant state attorney.
DeBock asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer questions at a deposition, contending that the statutory immunity to which he was entitled was insufficient to immunize him from bar disciplinary proceedings and that he was thus entitled to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege unless this Court granted him immunity from bar disciplinary proceedings. Id. at 165.
The trial court agreed, but the district court reversed, holding that a witness cannot invoke a Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to testify in a criminal case because of the "potentially adverse use of his testimony in bar disciplinary proceedings." Id. (quoting State v. Rendina, 467 So. 2d 734, 736 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985)). DeBock sought this Court's review, contending that equal protection demands that an attorney witness who is granted statutory immunity be treated the same as an immunized non-attorney witness.
The Court rejected this challenge, holding that the protection of the public served as a rational basis for holding attorneys to different standards since "the unique role of attorneys as officers of the court mandates that attorneys be held to the highest of ethical standards." Id. at 168.