100 N.J.L.J. 10
January 6, 1976
Practicing Before Planning
Board Member, Present or Past Client
May an attorney appear before a municipal planning board when
a voting member of the board is either a past or present client of
We have always held that an attorney need not refuse employment because he may have to present his case before a relative. There, it is incumbent upon the relative to remove himself from the deliberations. Opinion 136, 91 N.J.L.J. 749 (1968), and Kremer v. Plainfield, 101 N.J. Super. 346 (Law Div. 1968). See also Drinker, Legal Ethics 72 and 277 (1961). More recently, we have found no unethical conduct where a lawyer represents clients before the local municipal court and local boards where his father, as mayor, participates in the appointment to these bodies and sits on the planning board. We stated that the attorney must take care to avoid the "appearance of impropriety" referred to in DR 9-101(C) which says:
A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body, or public official.
We concluded that although care must be taken in dealing with, or representing prospective clients before such municipal bodies, nevertheless, when an attorney's parent is the appointing power or participates in appointments, that relationship alone does not call for an inference of improper influence and the attorney may appear before the public boards whose members are appointed by his parent.
Opinion 360, 99 N.J.L.J. 1166 (1976).
Likewise, and for the same basic reasons, we hold that the attorney may ethically appear before the planning board on behalf of a client even though a voting member of the board is either a past or a present client of the attorney. We would assume that the attorney would, at the outset, set forth the facts for the record of the case. Thereafter, the responsibility is on the member of the board not to sit on a case unless he is both free from bias and from the appearance thereof. See ABA Comm. on Professional Ethics and Grievances, Opinion 200 (1940).