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108 N.J.L.J. 525 ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
December 10, 1981
Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court
County Tax Board Members
The inquiry is threefold:
May an attorney who is a member of a county board of
taxation handle criminal matters in the same county or
other counties? May that attorney represent
municipalities or various arms of municipalities located
in the same county in which he is a member of the tax
board? May he appear before State administrative boards
in matters totally unrelated to taxation such as before
the Division of Workers' compensation?
(1) As to criminal defense work within the county of service,
the answer is no. Although members of county boards of taxation are
appointed by the Governor and paid from the State Treasury, they
are perceived by the public as "members of the county official
family" as described in Opinion 106, 90 N.J.L.J. 97 (1967). As
such, an attorney-member is in a similar position to that of a
member of the board of chosen freeholders, Opinion 291, 97 N.J.L.J.
801 (1974), even though the functions he performs are judicial
rather than legislative. See also R. 1:15-1(b) and R. 1:15-3(b)
which provide the rationale for disapproving the dual service.
In other counties, the public perception is different, and the
prohibition does not apply except, as recited in Opinion 106,
supra, i.e., in cases transferred to the county where the inquirer
(2) As to the representation of municipal boards and agencies
there is no inherent conflict of interest in nontax matters but the
public perception is of concern. See Opinions 464, 106 N.J.L.J. 498
(1980), and 466, 106 N.J.L.J. 518 (1980), references to the Supreme
Court's recent pronouncements in this area. See, e.g., Perillo v.
Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics 83 N.J. 366 (1980). The
Perillo rationale is properly extended to the area of this inquiry.
DR 8-101 and DR 9-101, as linked in Opinion 189, 93 N.J.L.J. 789
(1970) and 221,94 N.J.L.J. 1002 (1971), address the same problem
and require that to avoid the appearance of impropriety, an
attorney decline employment where it might appear that he is being
retained because of his status as a public official. This is so
even if the "client" is not a private individual. Subject to the
reservations which arise from the foregoing cited opinions, we
believe that the representation of municipal bodies in nontax
matters is not precluded.
(3) Appearances before the State administrative agencies in
nontax matters, i.e., in matters entirely unrelated to the
jurisdiction of the county board of taxation, are not precluded by
the above ethical considerations. However, the inquirer should be
aware that R. 1:18 and Canon 3(c) of the Code of Judicial Conduct
(see also Compliance Note following Canon 7, and R. 1:12), require
that he disqualify himself or refuse employment in the specific
situations outlined therein.
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