98 N.J.L.J. 534
June 12, 1975
Conflict of Interest
Freeholder, Attorney for County
Detective before Civil Service
This is inquiry involves an appeal to the Civil Service
Commission by an unsuccessful applicant for the position of county
detective. An attorney member of the county board of freeholders
in the county where the application was made is the attorney for
the unsuccessful applicant, and the respondent is the county
prosecutor, who is appearing in opposition to the appeal through an
assistant prosecutor. The inquirer poses two questions:
1. May the freeholder-attorney represent the unsuccessful applicant before the Civil Service Commission?
2. May the Prosecutor be represented by a regular member of his staff, rather than by the county colossal?
County detectives are appointed by the county prosecutor in each of the several counties, pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:167-1, et seq.
Although the number of detectives who may be appointed in the various classes of counties and the minimum salaries of each are established by state law, their salaries are paid by the county treasurer, upon the certification of the prosecutor, out of funds of the county, and the prosecutor may, with the approval of the board of chosen freeholders, fix the salaries of such county detectives at amounts in excess of the minimum statutory salaries. N.J.S. 2A 157-18. Despite the fact that the appointment of county
detectives and the amount of their salaries are, to some extent, governed by state law, they are county employees rather than in the state service. Cooper v. Imbriani, 63 N.J. 535, 537, n. 1 (1973).
Since the county detectives are county employees, it would be unethical for an attorney member of the county board of freeholders to prosecute an appeal of the prosecutor's decision not to hire a particular individual. Cf. Opinion 291, 97 N.J.L.J. 801 (1974). When acting as the chief administrator of the prosecutor's office in decisions affecting the hiring, firing and promotion of employees, the county prosecutor is clearly acting on behalf of the county. The representation by a freeholder-attorney of a person aggrieved by such a personnel decision of the county prosecutor requires the freeholder-attorney to oppose another county officer on behalf of his private client, creating an impermissible conflict
As to the second question, whether the county prosecutor should be represented by a member of his staff, by the county counsel or by the Attorney General's office is a matter of state law rather than a question of legal ethics, and we express no opinion on that point. It would be more appropriate to address this
second question to the county counsel or to the Attorney General's office.