116 N.J.L.J. 203
August 8, 1985
Conflict of Interest - Municipal
Prosecutor's Law Firm Representing
Municipal Judge: and Accepting Referrals
from Judge in Unrelated Actions
Questions relative to the inter-relationships among municipal
judges, municipal prosecutors, and county assistant prosecutors
were previously considered by this Committee in Opinion 359, 99
N.J.L.J. 1153 (1976) and by a later supplement, Opinion 359
(Supplement), 100 N.J.L.J. 417 (1977).
We are now asked:
(a) May a municipal prosecutor's law firm represent the private interests of the same municipality's judge, even if representation is limited to real estate matters in a different jurisdiction?
(b) May the same firm accept referrals and assume the handling of that judge's pending negligence cases wherein fees will be shared with the judge on the basis of services actually performed?
An obvious financial nexus permeates both situations.
We have often emphasized that attorneys should not only avoid all impropriety, but should likewise avoid the appearance of impropriety. Opinion 8, 86 N.J.L.J. 718 (1963). Cf. American Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 49 (1931) and our Opinion 189, 93 N.J.L.J. 189 (1970). In the latter, we characterized avoidance of not only "actual wrong doing, but even the appearance of wrong doing" as "perhaps the most demanding precept of professional discipline."
Lawyers do not practice in a vacuum. There are obvious and totally appropriate personal and social relationships which exist among us, but we practice in a climate of unfortunately diminished public confidence in the integrity of our profession.
The monetary relationship which is proposed here between the judge and the municipal prosecutor's firm raises an unnecessary and unacceptable appearance of impropriety.
The potential undermining of confidence in our profession outweighs the personal predilection of the judge to secure representation and referral fees from the municipal prosecutor's law firm. We hold that not only active representation by the prosecutor's firm on behalf of the judge in personal matters but also the handling of negligence referrals by that firm would be improper.