94 N.J.L.J. 451
May 27, 1971
Conflict of Interest
Private Suit Against Commissioner of Registration
Inquiry has been made as to whether it is proper for a county counsel to represent a private party in litigation brought against the commissioner of registration for the same county attacking a ruling of the commissioner.
As noted in our Opinion 106, 90 N.J.L.J. 97 (1967), relating to the county prosecutor, while the commissioner of registration is appointed by the Governor he is paid by the county board of freeholders. Therefore, both officials are representatives of the general public of the county and members of the same "official county family."
Strictly speaking, the county counsel is not the attorney for the commissioner of registration. We think, however, that in the eyes of the public he is the attorney for the official county family of which the commissioner is a part. There is thus created by this proposed representation a strong appearance of the violation of Canon 6 and particularly of the lawyer's duty to represent his client with undivided fidelity.
We have frequently expressed our opinion that to maintain confidence in the bar it is necessary not only to avoid actual wrongdoing, but even the appearance of wrongdoing. Obviously, the people in the county involved could reasonably conclude that it is wrong for the attorney for the county to represent a private party in a suit against an official of that county attacking a decision of that official presumptively made in the interest of the same general public represented by county counsel.
We conclude, therefore, that it would be improper for a county counsel to represent a private party in litigation attempting to overturn a ruling of the commissioner of registration of that county.