Current NJ Lawyers Duty & Obligation/s

From Bruce Eden –

Those cases express, as does the text of RPC 3.3(a)(5), the New Jersey Supreme Court’s understanding of the “double character” of an attorney’s “duty,” as described in In re Turner, supra, 83 N.J. at 539, 416 A.2d 894 (quoting People v. Beattie, 137 Ill. 553, 27 N.E. 1096, 1103 (1891)).   In Turner, we stated:

[An attorney] owes to his client the duty of fidelity, but he also owes the duty of good faith and honorable dealing to the judicial tribunals before whom he practices his profession.   He is an officer of the court-a minister in the temple of justice.   His high vocation is to correctly inform the court upon the law and the facts of the case, and to aid it in doing justice and arriving at correct conclusions.
[Ibid. (quoting Beattie, supra, 137 Ill. at 574, 27 N.E. at 1103).]

That understanding is shared by courts and commentators around the country.   See, e.g., United States v. Associated Convalescent Enters., Inc., 766 F.2d 1342, 1346 (9th Cir.1985) (“An attorney does not simply act as an advocate for his client;  he is also an officer of the court.”);  Virzi v. Grand Trunk Warehouse & Cold Storage Co., 571 F.Supp. 507, 511 (E.D.Mich.1983) (“While it is expected that each lawyer will contend with zeal for the rights of his client, nevertheless he owes an affirmative duty of absolute candor and frankness to the court which transcends his private employment.”) (citation omitted);  In re Stump, 272 Ky. 593, 114 S.W.2d 1094, 1097 (1938) (“It is a lawyer’s obligation to participate in upholding the integrity, dignity, and purity of the courts.   He  owes a definite responsibility to the public in the proper administration of justice.”);  In re Integration of Neb. State Bar Ass’n, 133 Neb. 283, 275 N.W. 265, 268 (1937) (“An attorney owes his first duty to the court.

He assumed his obligation toward it before he ever had a client.   His oath requires him to be absolutely honest even though his client’s interests may seem to require a contrary course.”);  People v. DePallo, 96 N.Y.2d 437, 729 N.Y.S.2d 649, 754 N.E.2d 751, 753 (2001) (“[A]n attorney’s duty to zealously represent a client is circumscribed by an ‘equally solemn duty to comply with the law and standards of professional conduct ․’ ”) (citation omitted);  William H. Simon, Ethical Discretion in Lawyering, 101 Harv. L.Rev. 1083, 1133 (1988) (“[T]he lawyer has been both an advocate and ‘an officer of the court’ with responsibilities to third parties, the public, and the law.”).

Yet, in each case, the multiple roles and potentially conflicting duties described by those courts and commentators must be examined to sort out in a specific context the extent of the duties imposed and the precedence of one over another.   In that regard, New Jersey has taken a distinctive approach.   As recognized by Professor Michael Ambrosio:

“The New Jersey Rules place the public interest before the interests of both clients and lawyers․ [In this way, the] New Jersey Supreme Court has given a different interpretation to the idea that in an adversarial system of justice, a lawyer’s duty of loyalty to his client is the same as his duty to the legal system.   Although traditional adversarial ethics (reflected in former rules) provide a legal and, perhaps, a moral justification to ignore the public interest when pursuing the interests of a client, the New Jersey Rules clearly do not.”

[Michael P. Ambrosio, The “New” New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct:  Reordered Priorities for Public Accountability, 11 Seton Hall Legis. J. 121, 130 (1987).]

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