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                                             118 N.J.L.J. 94
                                            July 24, 1986


Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey


Conflict of Interest - Multiple
Representation of Public Entities
in Environmental Damage Suit

    The inquirer is a member of a firm which has been requested to defend several municipalities in a multi-party environmental tort suit. The request came from liability insurance carriers as well as several uninsured municipalities. The suit names four hundred and fifty defendants, including approximately sixty public entities. It alleges in identical terms that all defendants dumped various wastes in a landfill which by migration has caused personal injury and property damage.
    Although there are pertinent distinctions between the factual situation here and Opinion 552, 115 N.J.L.J. 96 (1985); modified, IMO Petition for Review of Opinion 552, N.J.(1986); the Committee feels that the observations made by the Supreme Court, based in part on the severe financial strains that the per se rule can have on local governments, are applicable here. The Court said:
        We believe that the appropriate rule for dealing with potential conflicts of interest [in the case before the Court] must be grounded upon common sense, experience and realism. These considerations forcefully suggest that the joint representation of clients with potentially differing interests is permissible provided there is a substantial identity of interests between them in terms of defending claims that have been brought against all defendants. The elements of mutuality must preponderate over the elements of incompatibility. N.J.(Slip opinion at 13).

    Therefore, we are of the opinion that joint representation of municipal bodies is not prohibited in circumstances such as those present here so long as the applicable guidelines explicated by the Supreme Court are strictly followed.

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