91 N.J.L.J. 749
November 21, 1968
Attorney for Planning Board
Relative of Board Member
Is it ethical for an attorney to represent a planning board when a relative (the attorney's uncle) is a member and chairman of the board?
The attorney is employed by the municipality and paid by the municipality. His function as attorney for the board, composed of nine members, may be divided into two major categories:
A. Oral advice at the meetings and written opinions concerning the rules and procedure of the board and interpreting the general statutes, subdivision, zoning, street, sewer and water ordinances as they relate to a specific application before the board;
B. The preliminary drafting of changes and amendments to municipal ordinances concerning planning which must by law emanate from the planning board. He has also been asked to assist the board in the newly proposed master plan.
The attorney also performs legal services for his uncle on a personal basis, but such matters are totally unrelated to any matters before the board.
There appears to be no reason why an attorney cannot represent a planning board, even though his uncle is a member and chairman of the board. In so acting for the board he is not seeking directly or indirectly any discretionary favor on behalf of a client. Even if an attorney were to appear on behalf of a private client, before the planning board on which his uncle sat as chairman, he would not be guilty of any unethical conduct.
The Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association, in Opinion 200 (1940), in passing upon a similar question, said:
It is not incumbent on a lawyer to refuse to accept employment in a case because it may be heard [in court] by his father or other relative. The responsibility is on the judge not to sit in a case unless he is both free from bias and from the appearance thereof.
To the same effect, see Drinker, Legal Ethics, 72 and 277, and Kremer v. City of Plainfield, 101 N.J. Super. 346 (Law Div. 1968).
It is, therefore, the conclusion of this Committee that on the stated facts, there is no unethical conduct involved.