94 N.J.L.J. 1002
October 28, 1971
Conflict of Interest -
State Division of Tax Appeals
Judge and His Associates
The inquiry is as follows:
1. If an associate of a firm is a judge of the State
Division of Tax Appeals, may the firm represent
clients in tax appeals before County Board of
2. If an associate of a firm is a judge of the State Division of Tax Appeals, may the firm represent clients in appeals before the State Division if the associate does not participate in either the hearing or the decision to be made by the State Division?
In N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 189, 93 N.J.L.J. 789 (1970), we thought we had set forth clearly the rationale of all previous inquiries regarding conflict of interest arising out of the relationship between lawyers, law firms and governmental agencies.
It would seem to us that the associate of the firm involved, who is a member of the State Division of Tax Appeals, certainly could not appear before a County Board of Taxation. Decisions of the county board are appealed to the state board, of which he is a member. This should answer both questions because the prohibition governing the associate member of the firm would ascend to all members of the firm, associates and partners. The mere fact that the associate would disqualify himself in matters before the State Division involving his firm would not change the ethics of the problem.
The "appearance of wrongdoing still remains where the public is concerned. In the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional
Responsibility, DR 9-101, when read with DR 8-101, clearly establishes the guidelines for the lawyer who holds public office or a public position. It is set forth at length in our Opinion 189
herein before referred to. Public confidence in government and the profession must be preserved. The standards to be observed have been clearly set forth by this Committee in numerous opinions. See N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics Opinions 22, 87 N.J.L.J. 13 (1964); 168, 93 N.J.L.J. 7 (1970); 182, 93 N.J.L.J. 492 (1970); 186, 93 N.J.L.J. 617 (1970); 191, 94 N.J.L.J. 33 (1971); 192, 94 N.J.L.J. 44 (1971).
For the reasons stated, the answer to the above questions is in the negative.