91 N.J.L.J. 797
December 12, 1968
Conflict of Interest
Municipal Attorney Suing School Board
This inquiry concerns the propriety of an attorney representing a workmen's compensation petitioner in a claim against the board of education of the municipality in which the attorney is employed as an assistant municipal attorney. The inquirer advises that the board of education in the municipality is an appointed board under Chapter 12 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes.
In our Opinion 77, 88 N.J.L.J. 453 (1965), we held that an attorney who was an appointed member of a board of education under Chapter 6 of R.S. 18 (now Chapter 12 of N.J.S. 18A), could not properly represent private clients before other municipal agencies such as the board of adjustment, planning board, housing authority, etc. We noted that the board in such cases is appointed by the municipality and that the chapter (now Chapter 22 of N.J.S. 18A) also provided for the appointment of a board of school estimate with municipal representation which had veto power over the budget prepared by the school board. Such control deprived the board of education of its autonomous nature and subjected it to a degree of municipal control not found in the case of an elected board. Cf. our Opinion 41, 87 N.J.L.J. 285 (1964).
We have repeatedly held that an attorney employed by one agency of a public body may not appear for or against other agencies of the same public body. Such representation by attorneys is proscribed because it "cannot help but give rise to suspicion that, by virtue of being members of the same official ... family, they have influence which could be asserted on behalf of such client beyond that possessed by other members of the bar." Opinion 106, 90 N.J.L.J. 97 (1967).
We, therefore, hold that it would be improper for the municipal attorney in this case to prosecute a claim against the board of education which is appointed by the members of the municipal body which the attorney represents.