86 N.J.L.J. 734
Conflict of Interest
An attorney for a municipality, who states that his title is "Corporation Legislative Counsel" and whose duties are to advise the Town Council as to the legality of ordinances and resolutions prior to passage and to draft the ordinances and resolutions, inquiries whether he may properly handle tax appeals against the municipality, as well as cases before the Board of Adjustment, the Municipal Magistrate and negligence actions against the municipality. In his letter, the inquirer points out that the municipality has a Town Attorney and an Assistant Town Attorney and that these individuals perform the general legal work of the municipality, the inquirer never being called upon to represent the municipality in litigation of any sort.
The ordinance which creates the office of Corporation Legislative Counsel provides as follows:
The Corporation Legislative Counsel shall be the legal advisor to the Council. He shall advise the Council as to the form and sufficiency of all ordinances and resolutions prior to their passage and shall perform the duties herein before set forth in Article II, Section 2.2, Rule VIII of the Administrative Code of the Town of ... [attend Council meetings and approve ordinances].
It is obvious from reading this that the inquirer may be called upon to perform duties beyond merely advising in connection with ordinances and resolutions or drafting the same. He is an employee of the municipality.
N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 4, 86 N.J.L.J. 357, 361 (1963), states as follows:
In a broad sense an attorney representing a municipality or any of its agencies has as his "client" the entire municipality, and he should avoid any retainers from others which may place him in a position where he appears to be either seeking relief or favor from the municipality or any of its agencies for a private client or to oppose action by the municipality or its agencies on behalf of a private client. If he did so, it would be inevitable that, if he were successful, the losing litigant, or the public in general, would be troubled by suspicion that his success in the matter was attributable to improprieties and that his position or influence as a municipal attorney might have furthered the cause of the private client.
While an attorney representing two private clients may properly act in exceptional cases with the consent of each, even though a possibility of connecting interests exists, consent is generally available where the public interest is involved. See Drinker, Legal Ethics 120 (1953).
See also, NJ. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 8, 86 N.J.L.J. 718 (1963).
What was stated in the quoted opinion is applicable to the present inquiry and is dispositive of it. The Committee is of the opinion that the inquirer may not, while holding the office of Corporation Legislative Counsel, handle cases of any nature against the municipality.