Ethics Committee Formal Opinion #1995/96‑4
Conflicts of Interest: Litigation Against Town When Attorney Serves on the Town Planning Board and Participation in Amendments to Town Ordinance as a Member of the Planning Board when Attorney’s Clients May be Either Adversely or Favorably Affected by Amendments to the Zoning Ordinance.
December 13, 1995
A lawyer who is also a member of the town planning board is clearly a lawyer‑official, who may not represent a client in litigation involving the town in which the lawyer‑official sits as a planning board member, due to the lawyer‑official’s responsibilities to a “third person”, the town, or by the lawyer‑official’s own political interests. This is so, unless the lawyer‑official reasonably believes that the representation would not be adversely affected and the client has consented after consultation and with knowledge of the consequences. (Rule 1.7; Rule 1.7(b); terminology‑consultation).
A lawyer who is also a member of the town planning board qualifies as a lawyer‑official and may not participate in any hearing or vote as a planning board member on a matter in which the lawyer or his or her clients have an interest. (Rule 1.11A(b)(1) and (b)(5)).
- Does an impermissible conflict arise when a lawyer serves on a town planning board and represents the plaintiff in an action against the town?
- May an attorney serving on a town planning board act on zoning ordinance amendments which either adversely or positively affect the interests of that attorney’s clients?