129 N.J.L.J. 513
October 17, 1991
Conflict of Interest: Law Firm
Given Authority to Determine
Whether Defendant Qualifies for
Public Defender Assistance
Negotiating Representation for a
Fee After a Finding of Non-Indigency
A county bar association has inquired as to the propriety of
a public defender for a municipal court negotiating a fee for
services agreement with a defendant who fails to meet the
prescribed qualifications for legal services furnished by the
public defender. The public defender will be paid by the
municipality and will decide whether a defendant meets the criteria
of eligibility for representation by the public defender.
We are of the opinion that a law firm hired by a municipality as a public defender should not represent an accused after a review of the latter's financial affairs shows that the defendant does not qualify for the public defender program.
Under the proposal, the initial decision as to qualification for the services of the municipal public defender is made by the law firm having the defender contract. The process calls for the defendant to appear before an "intake" staff member and disclose relevant financial data. Then
... the client will meet with an attorney who will advise the prospective client as to the law firm's position on program eligibility.