89 N.J.L.J. 49
The following inquiry has been submitted:
Attorney X is a resident of municipality B. A member of the
governing body of municipality B has contacted X and asked him if
he would be willing to serve as a member of the zoning board of
adjustment in municipality B. If attorney X accepts the appointment
and becomes a member of the zoning board of adjustment of
municipality B, may he:
1) Represent clients before the zoning board of adjustment in municipality B, of course, disqualifying himself from participation in the board's deliberations?
2) Represent a client before the planning board of
3) Represent a client before the governing body of municipality B?
4) Represent a client before the municipal court in municipality B?
5) Represent a client before other administrative agencies of municipality B, such as, but not limited to, the board of education, the board of health, industrial commission, sewer authority, etc.?
The foregoing questions have all been previously answered in the negative, with one exception pertaining to a board of education, hereinafter referred to. This, the inquirer concedes, as to the first three questions but argues that N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 15, 86 N.J.L.J. 734 (1963), based its answers to said three questions upon prior opinions dealing with the functions of an attorney representing a municipal body, board or agency, rather than with an attorney-member of such municipal body, board, or agency. He contends, in substance and effect, that what we have said is improper conduct for an attorney representing a municipal body, board or agency, is not improper if the attorney is only a member
of such municipal body, board or agency. We disagree.
Running through all our opinions, in this area of conflict, is the prevailing theme that, where the public interest is involved, every situation which affords a chance for impropriety, however slight, should, if possible, be avoided in order to eliminate public suspicion that an attorney in public office will use his position or influence in behalf of a client. And this is so whether he is the attorney for or a member of a public body, board or agency. In this respect the language of the ABA Comm. on Professional Ethics and Grievances, Opinion 49 (1931), is particularly appropriate. The committee said:
If the profession is to occupy that position in public esteem which will enable it to be of the greatest usefulness, it must avoid not only all evil, but must likewise avoid the appearance of evil.
In N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 37, 87 N.J.L.J. 190 (1964), we said that it was improper for an attorney-member of a board of health to represent private clients before other municipal agencies in the same municipality, such as the zoning board of adjustment, the municipal court, the municipal
governing body, the alcoholic beverage control board, and the planning board. In Opinion 64, 87 N.J.L.J. 801 (1964), we held that it was improper for an attorney-member of a municipal parking authority to represent clients in the municipal court or before any other agency of the same municipality. In Opinion 70, 88 N.J.L.J. 161 (1965), we advised that it was improper for a law firm of an attorney-member of a governing body to represent clients before a
board of adjustment, planning board, or governing body in that municipality. In Opinion 77, 88 N.J.L.J. 453 (1965), we said "it would be improper for an attorney, who is an appointed member of a board of education functioning under Title 18, Chapter 6, to represent individual clients before the municipal court or the various boards of the municipality." See also N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics Opinion 24, 87 N.J.L.J. 19 (1964); 22, 87 N.J.L.J. 13 (1964); 19, 86 N.J.L.J. 734 (1963); and 33, 87 N.J.L.J. 249 (1964).
It is our opinion, therefore, that it would be improper for attorney X to represent clients before the zoning board, the planning board, the municipal governing body, the municipal court,
or any other boards or agencies of municipality B, with the sole exception of the board of education, if said board is elected under Chapter 7, Title 18 of the Revised Statutes. See N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics Opinion 41, 87 N.J.L.J. 285 (1964), and Botkin v. Westwood, 52 N.J. Super. 416 (App. Div. 1958).