95 N.J.L.J. 389
April 27, 1972
Conflict of Interest
The Committee has received the following inquiry.
A and B are partners in the practice of law in this State. A is the first legal assistant for the City of X and B is the mayor under a council-manager form of government of the City of Y. Both cities are within the same county.
By order of the county board of taxation, both cities were directed to conduct complete reevaluations of all rateables within their municipalities. Both cities complied using independent reevaluation firms. The reevaluations have been submitted to the county board of taxation for use in the tax year 1972. The county
tax board, in its preliminary equalization table, has established assessments at 100 percent of true value for both X and Y.
The City of X asserts that this is an error and that the City of Y's assessments are less than 100 percent of true value and has directed A to object to the preliminary equalization table and take whatever steps by way of appeal are necessary to have the City of Y's assessments reduced to a percentage less than 100 percent of true.
The inquirer readily admits that there is an actual and apparent conflict between the two cities but points out that his partner, the mayor, has nothing to do with the assessments for the
City of Y, nor did he have anything to do with the reevaluation. He further points out that because of his background and experience as legal assistant for the City of X, he is particularly qualified to present the technical phases involved in the adjustment of the county equalization table.
The question presented is whether A, as attorney for the City of X, may challenge the assessments of the City of Y of which his law partner is mayor?
It is obvious that these two law partners, one as mayor of the City of Y and the other as attorney for the City of X, each owes undivided and absolute fidelity to his respective city. It is also obvious that the conflict between the two cities directly affects the taxpayers of the respective cities. For the members of the same
partnership sharing earnings to owe divergent duties of fidelity to the directly conflicting legal positions of their principles is improper. This Committee has held on many occasions that not only actual conflicts must be avoided, but the appearance of conflict is equally to be avoided. This simple principle becomes paramount when the rights of the general public are involved. For the partnership of A and B to even contemplate sharing fees derived from the anticipated litigation would undoubtedly be a just basis for a public uproar.
It is the conclusion of this Committee that neither A nor B should in any way participate in the dispute between the City of X and the City of Y arising out of a challenge to assessments.