118 N.J.L.J. 560
October 23, 1986
Appearance by Former Partners
before Municipal Court Judge
The Committee has received an inquiry from a member of a law
firm who is occupying the position of public defender in a city and
whose partner has recently been appointed as judge of the municipal
court of the same city. We are advised that he and his remaining
partners, one of whom is a son of the newly appointed municipal
magistrate, "face a problem as to whether or not they are permitted
to appear before the judge and actively participate in any defense
of non-indigent defendants."
As a result of inquiries made by the Committee, it has developed that while the judge has resigned from the firm, the remaining principals have arranged for a ten year pay-out of the judge's interest in the firm and have given personal guarantees of a note evidencing their obligation to him. The judge is also a stockholder and principal in the corporation which owns the building leased to the law firm for its offices.
The specific "Conflict of Interest/Questions" presented to the Committee are as follows:
(A) Is it ethical for the inquirer, as public defender appointed and salaried by the city, to represent indigent defendants before the municipal court or other boards and agencies of that municipality?
(b) is by blood or marriage the first cousin of or
is more closely related to any attorney in the
action. This proscription shall extend to the
partners, employers, employees, or office
associates of any such attorney except where
the Chief Justice for good cause otherwise
Our opinion is that, absent permission from the Chief Justice, none of the lawyers in the firm may appear before the municipal court judge.
We must consider whether the inquirer as the public defender may represent indigent clients before the municipal court in question and whether he and his remaining partners may represent retained clients before the same court before a judge other than the judge who is disqualified by reason of R. 1:12 above cited and whether they may represent clients before the other boards and agencies of that municipality. These questions were presented to
the Committee in a somewhat different context and after due consideration of the problem of the appearance of conflict to the