Link to original WordPerfect Document

                                         118 N.J.L.J. 875
                                        December 18, 1986


Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey


Conflict of Interest -
Council Member/P.B.A. Attorney

    The inquirer is an associate of a law firm which is general counsel to a labor relations firm. The latter is retained by the local township P.B.A. to advise it on legal matters raised during contract negotiations. Through the labor relations firm, the inquirer's law firm has become counsel to the P.B.A. in the Township and is paid by the latter for services rendered to it.
    The inquirer asks: (1) whether, under this state of facts, is he barred from participating in a Township elective office, (he has been asked to run for the Township Council); (2) if he is elected to the Council, does his participation turn upon the representation of the P.B.A. by his law firm (we assume the inquirer means would his general participation as a Council member be inhibited by this representation); and (3) is it sufficient, if he is elected, and his firm continues to represent the P.B.A., that he recuse himself in Council matters pertaining to the Township police force?
    It is clear that the mere fact that his law firm represents the local P.B.A. does not, per se, disqualify him from serving on the Township Council. We said in Opinion 28, 87 N.J.L.J. 106 (1964):
        A lawyer's experience and broad contacts render him especially equipped to serve on public bodies and to furnish to the public the benefit of his experience, skill and training. A municipality should not be deprived of this gratuitous advice for the public welfare.

    However, will recusing himself from dealing with the local police department matters while his firm represents the P.B.A. eliminate the perception in the public mind that, in dealing with the Council, the P.B.A. will obtain some advantage by reason of the attorney being on the Council? This is the basic question to be decided.
    In our Opinion 320, 98 N.J.L.J. 857 (1975), we discussed, generally, the rule concerning attorneys representing P.B.A. both in civil and criminal proceedings as that rule is enunciated in State v. Galati 64 N.J. 572 (1974). In the latter case, the Court said at page 577:
        The P.B.A. has in the public mind a quasi official status as the conspicuous spokesman for the interests of all policemen.

    Having in mind that all police officers in the municipality probably belong to the P.B.A., or in the case of the superior officers, to a similar organization, and that the Council fixes the budget with salaries or other benefits to the police, will this disqualify the inquirer from dealing with these matters?
    In RPC 1.7(c)(2), it is stated that:
    in certain cases or situations creating an appearance of impropriety rather than an actual conflict, multiple representation is not permissible; that is, in those situations in which an ordinary knowledgeable citizen acquainted with the facts would conclude that the multiple representation poses substantial risk of disservice to either the public interest or the interest of one of the clients.

    It is our opinion that, if the inquirer is elected to the Township Council and, if his firm wishes to continue to represent the P.B.A., he must disqualify himself from any discussions or actions on the Council which involve the police department in any way thus, eliminating any appearance of impropriety. This, of course, will limit his service to the public but absent such total abstinence, an ordinary, knowledgeable citizen might conclude that, in police department matters, the public interest might be subordinated to that of the P.B.A.

* * *

This archive is a service of Rutgers University School of Law - Camden