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                                             91 N.J.L.J. 309
                                            May 16, 1968


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Conflict of Interests
Opposing Former Partner's Client

    An attorney inquires whether, based upon the following facts, there is a violation of the Canons of Professional Ethics, Canons 6 and 37.
    In 1964, a wife consulted attorney A in regard to matrimonial difficulties, at which time A and the inquirer were partners. No action was taken - apparently the husband and wife were reconciled. The partnership was terminated in 1961, and A died in 1967. Recently, the inquirer has been consulted by the husband relative to a suit for divorce based on adultery, which allegedly occurred within a few months prior to the consultation. The inquirer further states that he never interviewed the wife, and that no confidences were disclosed to him by his former partner.
    It is clear, under the facts presented, that A, if he were alive, could not represent the husband in an action for divorce against the wife. See In re Blatt, 42 N.J. 522 (1964), our Opinion 26, 87 N.J.L.J. 19 (1964), and In re Braun, 49 N.J. 16 (1967). This inquiry, however, concerning as it does the representation of the husband by A's partner, is not directly disposed of by the Blatt or Braun cases or by our Opinion 26, supra.

    An opinion which bears upon the present inquiry, A.B.A. Comm. on Professional Ethics and Grievances, Opinion 33 (1931), concluded that an attorney could not represent individuals who were taking a position against a former client of the attorney's former partner, contrary to that advanced by his former partner when the two were associated. Although the facts of A.B.A. Opinion 33 indicate that the attorney may have received confidences concerning the matter when he was associated with the former partner, we do not believe the ABA Committee would have reached a different conclusion under the facts presented here. Nor do we.
    For all intents and purposes, the client of one partner is a client of all the partners. If an attorney formerly associated with X could not handle a particular matter because of the prohibition contained in Canon 6 which "forbids also the subsequent acceptance of ... employment from others in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed," or the prohibition in Canon 37 which forbids the disclosure of confidential communications, X cannot handle the matter either. The inquirer here, however, states that no confidence had been reposed in him. But this Committee has made clear in the past that the appearance of conflict, even where no actual conflict interests, may require disengagement by an attorney from the matter which gives rise to such an appearance. See our Opinion 68, 88 N.J.L.J. 91 (1965) and 42, 87 N.J.L.J. 285 (1964).
    In the present inquiry, it is certainly possible that the wife could, with justification, feel aggrieved due to the inquirer's representation of her husband.
            The impropriety of taking a case against a former client is not based solely on necessity for disclosure of confidential communications. If the former client has any reason to feel aggrieved, the necessity of maintaining proper public relations for the bar and of avoiding the appearance of wrongdoing should cause the attorney to refuse to accept employment in a capacity adverse to the interests of a former client. See, Wise, Legal Ethics 155 (1966).

    In this case, the wife is, by virtue of the fact that she was represented by a former partner, a former client of the inquirer as well.
    We can perceive of no way in which this unprofessional appearance could be limited and, therefore, conclude that the inquirer may not represent the husband in an action for divorce against the wife.

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