104 N.J.L.J. 1
July 5, 1979
Conflict of Interest
Attorney for Insurance Company Which
Defends Municipalities - Municipal Practice
Inquirer does legal work for a liability insurance company
which numbers among its insureds various municipalities. He is
called upon by the company from time to time to defend
municipalities, their agents and servants, for negligence, false
arrests, civil rights violations, etc. Each of the cases involves
as defendants either the municipal entity, its police officers, or
Inquirer is not the solicitor for the municipalities involved or any other governmental body connected with the municipalities. He understands and agrees that he could not represent private clients in matters before a municipal court in which the complaining witness or investigating officer is or has been represented by inquirer.
There are two questions: (a) May an attorney representing municipalities and their employees through an insurance company represent other clients in unrelated matters before a planning board, board of adjustment or other governmental bodies of that municipality? (b) May an attorney representing individual police officers through an insurance company represent individual clients in the municipal court of the municipality in unrelated matters where neither the complaining witness nor the investigating officer has been represented by him?
In our opinion the proposed representations in unrelated matters are proper in both situations presented. In Opinion 320, 98 N.J.L.J. 857 (1975), as modified by Supplement to Opinion 320, 100 N.J.L.J. 1126 (1977), we held that an attorney who is known as a PBA attorney is not precluded from representing PBA members in civil matters. Opinion 404, 102 N.J.L.J. 205 (1978), prohibits representation in a municipal court when a complaining police witness has been previously represented by the attorney.
Since the inquirer is not a municipal attorney or attorney for any other governmental body in the municipality or the attorney for the PBA, we do not consider that Opinion 377, 100 N.J.L.J. 698 (1977), or Opinion 113, 90 N.J.L.J. 473 (1967), would preclude appearance before various boards in the municipality. The inquirer
is not truly a municipal attorney in the sense of being a member of the official family appointed to his position by the governing body. Instead he is the attorney chosen by the insurance company for the purpose of representing the municipal body in a particular matter. Thus it appears that there is little likelihood that the general public would associate him with the municipal government so as to give any appearance of a conflict of interest.
We reiterate our prior opinion that it would be improper to represent a private client in a municipal court where the attorney had previously represented the complaining witness or investigating officer and that any matters presented to a planning board, board of adjustment or other governmental body, including the governing body, must be clearly unrelated to the subject matter of prior representation for the insurance company. We further caution that if the inquirer represents a member of any official board of the municipality or if it is clear that members of a municipal body must be involved with him as witnesses or otherwise in the course
of his handling a matter for the insurance company, any appearance before such municipal body while the litigation is pending would be
improper. In addition, if any prior representation of a municipal board through an insurance company would give or tend to give to the public any appearance of a conflict of interest, the subsequent representation of a client before the particular board should be declined.