102 N.J.L.J. 80
July 27, 1978
Conflict of Interest
Municipal Solicitor Representing
Developers and Land Purchasers
The inquirer, a part-time municipal solicitor, has requested an opinion on the propriety of his representing a buyer of realty
within the municipality for which he is solicitor, and the propriety of representing a developer of property within the municipality in matters unrelated to the property being developed.
The latter question was answered in Opinion 90, 89 N.J.L.J. 241 (1966), where we held that a municipal attorney may not represent a client in matters in another municipality if that same client has a substantial development project in the municipality in which the municipal attorney serves. Similarly, the inquirer may not represent a developer within the municipality on the sale of property unrelated to the property being developed, nor should he represent the developer in the sale of the developed property after all municipal approvals have been granted.
The Supreme Court of this State has dealt with municipal attorneys representing developers in In the Matter of A and B., Attorneys at Law, 44 N.J. 331 (1965). There, the Court held that
the subject of land development is one in which the likelihood of transactions with a municipality and the room for public misunderstanding are so great that a member of the bar should not
represent a developer operating in a municipality in which the member of the bar is the municipal attorney. Id. at 334.
This proscription would not, however, prohibit a municipal attorney or city solicitor from representing the purchaser or seller in the sale of a developed single-family house within the municipality, nor should it prohibit him from representing the purchaser or seller of commercial or industrial property which would not require municipal approval. Great discretion is required, however, as to vacant land or any piece of property as to which it could reasonably be anticipated that further development would be necessary, involving the approval of municipal agencies. An attorney must avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and an attorney who is a public officer, whether full or part-time, should not engage in activities in which his personal or professional interests are, or foreseeably may be, in conflict with his official duties. DR 9-101, Opinion 322, 99 N.J.L.J. 126 (1976). Therefore, if there is any possibility of development of the property in the foreseeable future or the necessity for municipal approvals of one sort or another, the municipal attorney or solicitor should not accept the employment. Cf. In re Dolan, 76 N.J. 1 (1978).