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                                         99 N.J.L.J. 665
                                        July 29, 1976


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Conflict of Interest
Attorney Defending Himself
in Rent Action by Former Client

    An attorney and his wife leased an apartment in a complex which his law firm and he represented in approximately twenty eviction cases. When the landlord recently gave notice of a rent increase on the attorney's apartment, the attorney determined that the method of establishing the increase as well as its amount was contrary to law and refused to pay the increase. The owner of the apartment complex retained other attorneys who instituted suit against the attorney and his wife for the increase plus late charges. An answer was filed in behalf of the defendants by one of the members of his law firm. The plaintiff's attorney challenged the propriety of the representation since the defendant and his law firm had previously represented the complex. The defendant attorney's law firm withdrew as counsel, substituting the defendant as attorney pro se for himself and his wife. Plaintiff's attorney is now contending that DR 5-101 and DR 6-102 forbid the defendant attorney firm representing his wife and himself pro se. The defendant is of the opinion that DR 6-101(B)(4) permits him to represent himself and his wife because of the hardship to which he would be put if he were required to refer the case to another counsel who had a background in landlord and tenant law as extensive as his own, and the expense of paying such an attorney would further increase the hardship "since the amount in controversy is only $55."
    The specific question is whether an attorney who, together with his wife, is sued by a former client may represent himself and his wife in the action, or must he retain independent counsel. Though our spirits are deflated by the amount in controversy, we conceive no ethical consideration which would prevent the attorney from representing himself and his wife under the circumstances. He has the same fundamental rights in this respect as any other individual.

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