116 N.J.L.J. 556
October 24, 1985
Conflict of Interest - Attorney
Representing County Probation
Officers' Union While Practicing
Criminal Law within County
Inquirer engages in a significant criminal law practice in the
county where his law office is located. He has been retained by the
Probation Officers' Association - apparently composed of members
who are probation officers or senior probation officers employed in
the same county - to negotiate their employment contract for the
1985-1986 term. We are told that "... among the duties performed by
some probation officers is the preparation of pre-sentence reports
for criminal defendants." The issue raised is whether Inquirer may
represent the association and continue handling criminal matters in
The factual situation does not present a conflict in the classic sense. However, it raises the question of whether the circumstances present would tend to impair the confidence of the community in the administration of justice. See Opinion 113, 90 N.J.L.J. 473 (1967).
In State v. Galati, 64 N.J. 572 (1974), the Court held that an attorney who is regularly employed by a local policemen's benevolent association may not represent a police officer/member of the association where the prosecutor announced that a fellow member would be called to testify. In so holding, the Court said:
Central to the ethical dilemma is this condition of affairs; when the lawyer of a PBA chapter consults periodically and intimately with its membership for the legislative, economic, and other well-being of the organization and its members, he acquires, or is generally believed to acquire a special status, a relationship, a bridge of confidentiality and trust which sets him apart from other lawyers. Id., at 575.
The Galati Court concurred with the results reached by this Committee in Opinion 113, 90 N.J.L.J. 473 (1967), and Opinion 196, 94 N.J.L.J. 65 (1971). In the former, it was held that a law firm could not, if it represented a P.B.A., represent defendants in the municipal court of the city employing those police officers because in the minds of the public, spoken or unspoken, there would be a belief that success might be achieved by unfair help and assistance. In the latter, it was held that attorneys regularly engaged in the defense of those accused of criminal acts could not serve as attorneys for organizations of law enforcement officials. Cf. Opinion 320 (Supplement), 100 N.J.L.J. 1126 (1977), and Opinion 260, 96 N.J.L.J. 1129 (1973).
Under the circumstances presented here, it is clear to us that to permit the representation suggested would impinge upon the public consciousness and create an aura that justice was not being administered fairly and even-handedly. Public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the justice system would be sorely eroded. We, therefore, conclude that the representative of the association, so long as he is involved with the association, may not appear in the criminal courts of the county involved.
It is suggested that the problem can be eased by assigning pre-sentence investigations in cases in which Inquirer is involved to case managers, supervisors or others who are not members of the association. We believe that the suggestion does not solve the problem because it appears that negotiations on behalf of affiliated officers must have some bearing on non-affiliated personnel. More importantly, however, the appearance of influence or lack of impartiality would continue in the public mind.