100 N.J.L.J. 496
June 2, 1977
Conflict of Interest
Defending Local Offenders
We are asked whether a conflict of interest would exist should
the municipal solicitor of a township appear as defense counsel in
four motor vehicle prosecutions, two arrests being for violations
of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50A (drunken driving), where the violations took
place within the township represented by the inquirer although the
matters have been transferred to the municipal court of a
neighboring township. Three other facts said to be pertinent to the
inquiry are that the defendants were arrested and charged by the
state police since the municipality has no police force; the
offenses occurred prior to the appointment of the municipal
solicitor but were transferred to the adjoining township for other
reasons; and there is a municipal prosecutor appointed to present
such cases in the township where the inquirer is employed.
It is our opinion that there would be a conflict of interest under these circumstances. In our Opinion 84, 88 N.J.L.J. 629 (1965), we stated that it would be unethical for a municipal attorney to represent a defendant in a criminal case where the alleged offense took place in the municipality which the attorney represents. See also Opinions 52, 87 N.J.L.J. 610 (1964); 53, 87 N.J.L.J. 610 (1964); and, 139, 91 N.J.L.J. 805 (1968).
We also call the inquirer's attention to Opinion 239, 95 N.J.L.J. 481 (1972), where the committee interpreted R. 1:15-3(b) to prohibit a municipal prosecutor from representing an accused before the county court where the offense originated in the municipality for which he was the prosecutor. Such prohibition would be of necessity apply equally to a municipal solicitor and here we would extend the prohibition to encompass trial in the municipal court of a neighboring township. It would be unseemly and improper for the chief legal officer of a governmental body to represent those accused of violating the law within his jurisdiction in any forum, and we so hold.