96 N.J.L.J. 1253
November 1, 1973
Conflict of Interest
Municipal Public Defender
Private Municipal Practice
The inquirer has been appointed a municipal public defender.
He is paid by the municipality in question to represent a11
indigent defendants charged with non-indictable offenses before the
municipal court. He asks the following question:
Is it ethical for a public defender appointed and salaried by a municipality to represent retained clients before the municipal court or other boards and agencies of that municipality?
Lawyers are well advised to consider not only the possibility of actual conflict before taking on such representations as contemplated, but also the appearance of the same to the lay public. As the Supreme Court of New Jersey said In re Abrams, 56 N.J. 277 (1970), "Appearances too often are a matter of ethical concern, for the public has an interest in the repute of the legal
We believe, however, that a public defender's representation of other defendants before the court and other bodies of that municipality is entirely proper. The attorney in discharging his duties as public defender has as his clients the indigent defendants he is called upon to defend and not the municipality. The fact that he is appointed and paid by the municipality is immaterial, for his undivided fidelity in any such representation is to the defendant whose cause he advances.
Under such circumstances, the inquirer's appearances before the municipal court or other boards or agencies of the municipality present no conflict, real or apparent.