116 N.J.L.J. 244
August 15, 1985
Conflict of Interest - Legal Services
Board Member also City Attorney
We are asked whether or not a City Attorney may continue to
participate as a board member of a regional legal services
corporation in order to avoid possible "conflict of interest"
situations in the event a client of the legal services corporation
brings suit against the City which that Board member must then
We understand that the policy of the National Legal Services Corporation encourages board service by government officials.
In our Opinion 218, 94 N.J.L.J., 801 (1971), we held that a legal services corporation may not defend a matter in which one of its Board members represents the plaintiff. We came to this conclusion notwithstanding that Board members of a legal service corporation do not control clients' files and may be "insulated" from such data.
Here we are asked the reverse: May a board member who is the City Attorney defend the City in matters brought against the City by the legal services corporation even though as a board member that attorney has no knowledge of its client's file.
While we appreciate the importance of having governmental personnel participate in matters other than their official roles, it is our opinion that it would be improper for a City Attorney who sits on a legal services board, to defend suits brought against the City by clients of legal services. The confidence of the public in its governmental agencies is so important that situations where a risk of compromise is possible should be avoided.
It may be said that the defense may be assigned to other counsel outside of the City Attorney's office. While this solution is appropriate for a case where such a board number sues a person who seeks the aid of a legal services corporation, the public interest is not served by such an assignment. Hence, the City Attorney should leave the board.