95 N.J.L.J. 717
July 13, 1972
Merger of City and County Legal
Services Projects Representing Opposing Parties
An attorney has made the following inquiry:
The Newark Legal Services Project is a non-profit
corporation which provides legal services to the indigent
in civil matters in the City of Newark. Until January 1,
1972 the Essex County Legal Services Corporation provided
the same services in all of Essex County outside the City
of Newark. Each project received 80% of its funds from
the federal government and the balance from county, state
and private sources. Each project was governed by a
separate board of trustees, consisting of attorneys and
representatives of the community.
The boards of trustees of the projects were responsible for hiring the project administrators, raising funds and establishing general policies. In no circumstances did the boards of trustees involve themselves with the representation of clients or the handling of individual cases. The staff attorney to whom a client was assigned was the attorney for the client.
The situation arose from time to time, particularly though not limited to matrimonial cases, where both parties were indigent and required representation. In such cases, an attorney on the staff of the Newark Legal Services Project would represent one party and an attorney on the staff of the Essex County Legal Services Corporation would represent the other party, in order to avoid any conflict of interest. The Office of Economic Opportunity has required that commencing January 1, 1972, in the case of the Essex County Legal Services, Corporation, and commencing February 1, 1972, in the case of the Newark Legal Services Corporation, the two projects, while remaining separately administered agencies, have a single smaller board of trustees.
In compliance with this directive, a new non-profit corporation was formed, the Essex-Newark Legal Services Project.The new corporation will have a board of trustees consisting of attorneys and community representatives which will receive grants from the federal government for both components, will appoint administrators for both components and will set general policies.
The inquirer asks:
In these circumstances it is hoped that attorneys
from one project can represent one party to a cause,
while attorneys from the other project can represent the
other party. There seems to be no potential for a
conflict of interest to develop in such a situation.
In this Committee's Opinion 155, 92 N.J.L.J. 358 (1969), the factual situation was distinguishable from that presented here. We
likened the facts in that case to one member of a law firm representing the husband in a divorce action after another member of the same law firm had consulted with his wife. The facts in the present inquiry indicate that each component will have its own administrator, will be a separate division and will be completely autonomous. There will be no sharing of office space and no possible access to files of one division by members of the other.
Based on the facts submitted, and limited thereto, we anticipate no conflict of interest and therefore hold that an attorney from one project may represent one party to a cause while an attorney from the other project can represent an opposing party.