97 N.J.L.J. 362
May 16, 1974
Conflict of Interest
Senior Citizens Housing Attorney-
Practice Before Municipal Bodies
The inquirer is attorney for the senior citizens housing
association of a suburban municipality. This is a Title 15 non-
profit association created under the statute for the purpose of
independently financing, constructing and managing senior citizens
housing in the town. The town council determined by resolution to
create this independent entity, and the resolution provided in part
that it was a "municipally-inspired, community-oriented,
broadly-representative, non-profit corporation or association."
The original board of trustees consisted of seven members, two appointed by the mayor and one by each member of the five-member town council. The trustees are appointed for terms of three years and subsequent appointments will be on the same basis as the original appointments, i.e., the mayor and town council will make such appointments.
The inquirer states that the town has not expended, nor will it in the future expend, any funds on behalf of the association, and the latter is free to act as it chooses, subject to law. Aside from the power of the mayor and governing body of the town to appoint trustees, there is no other relationship between the town and the association. The association chooses its own business administrator and, of course, its own counsel. Payment for the latter's services is made by the association.
The inquiry is whether counsel for the association under such circumstances, may appear for private clients before various municipal bodies, such as the planning board, the board of adjustment, the town redevelopment agency, and the town council itself.
While it is true that the association occupies a position of autonomy in its activities so far as the town is concerned, it is equally true that the members of the board of trustees of the association, to a degree, are controlled by the town, in that they owe their appointments to the governing body. In a situation somewhat analogous, Opinion 123, 91 N.J.L.J. 97 (1968), this committee said that the attorney of a redevelopment agency, which is also autonomous so far as the town is concerned and similar to the agency in question here, could not appear before the town's municipal bodies on behalf of private clients. In that opinion, we cited earlier opinions bearing on the same subject.
Our views on this have not changed. Counsel in these cases must make a choice as to whether they desire to represent the autonomous agency and thus preclude the practice by themselves and members of their firms before the various town bodies, or whether they believe it to be more to their advantage to decline representation of the agency and represent private clients before the various municipal bodies.