114 N.J.L.J. 495
November 8, 1984
Conflict of Interest
Different School Districts
An attorney has inquired whether he may represent both the
primary school district (grades kindergarten through eighth) in
municipality "A" and the secondary school district (grades ninth
through twelfth) which covers both municipality "A" and
municipality "B". He states that the legal relationship between the
primary school district and the regional high school is quite
limited, but on occasion issues do arise that may involve both
districts. In the event of such a conflict, the attorney suggests
that a special counsel could be retained for those specific issues.
It would clearly be a breach of professional ethics for the attorney to represent both the municipal school board and the regional school board. We note our Opinion 300, 98 N.J.L.J. 126 (1975) wherein we stated, "[t]he public is ill-served when upon the event of a conflict an attorney for two agencies has to terminate his services as to both clients. Where the potential for conflict is reasonably clear, multiple representation should be refused." In the same opinion, we earlier stated that, "[t]his principle applies with particular force in cases of multiple representation of public boards or agencies for the reason that the public cannot give consent after full disclosure." The avoidance of a conflict of interest must take place not only where there is an existing conflict of interest, but where there might be a potential conflict of interest. The appearance of impropriety must be avoided as stated in Opinion 415, 103 N.J.L.J. 38 (1979).
Conflict of interest may cloud the judgment of an attorney so that he may not be able to be objective, nor be able to advocate the position of either or both of his clients to his full ability. The interests of either or both clients as well as the public will not be served. It should also be noted that neither the attorney's associate, nor the attorney's partner, may represent one school board when the attorney represents the second. The same inherent potential conflict of interest exists in that situation.