104 N.J.L.J. 16
July 5, 1979
Conflict of Interest
Former Municipal Adjustment
Board Attorney Practice Before Board
A former attorney for a municipal board of adjustment asks
whether there is any restriction in time which would limit his
private practice before the board on matters never presented to the
board during his tenure as its counsel.
In the interest of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety (DR 9-101(B)), normally there should be some waiting period before an attorney can begin representing private clients before or against his former governmental employer even though he is not otherwise disqualified. Such a period will make less likely the public's perception that he is making improper use of his previous association with the governmental employer. See Opinions 207, 94 N.J.L.J. 451 (1971), and 276, 96 N.J.L.J. 1461 (1973). This Committee, however, is without authority to prescribe any definite restriction in terms of weeks, months or years for the prospective guidance of a particular inquirer. In the absence of a contrary expression by the Supreme Court through amendment of the Disciplinary Rules or otherwise, the answer in each case must come from the attorney's own careful and informed Judgment as to what is reasonable and proper under all the circumstances of his situation. See Opinion 294, 97 N.J.L.J. 993 (1974).
We have deferred action on this inquiry pending review by the Supreme Court of our Opinion 361, 100 N.J.L.J. 1 (1977), which concerned the extent to which an assistant county prosecutor is disqualified from practicing criminal law after leaving office. The Court now has modified that opinion, holding inter alia that an assistant prosecutor, even if not otherwise disqualified, should not appear in any criminal matter against the State in the county in which he served for a period of six months from termination of his public employment. In re Advisory Opinion, 77 N.J. 199, 206 (1978). The opinion of the Court contains no language warranting an extension of its holding to former public attorneys other than assistant prosecutors, and thus preserves the general rule of reason for self application in other cases. In response to the question before us, however, we can now say in retrospect that enough time has passed since our receipt and deferral of the inquiry to satisfy the appearance of propriety in the inquirer's representation of private clients in matters never presented to the board of adjustment during the period of his service as its attorney.