NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATIONCommittee on
Opinion #470 - 06/07/1977 (66-77)
Topic: Conflict of interests; city attorney; urban renewal agency
Digest: Part-time city attorney may not appear before urban renewal
agency for purpose of obtaining modification of plan which would enable
him to purchase building scheduled for demolition
Code: Canon 9; DR 5-104(A); EC 5-2, 5-3, 8-8
A part-time city attorney would like to purchase a building which has
been scheduled for demolition pursuant to the city's urban renewal plan.
While the attorney does not advise the city's urban renewal agency, he
serves as legal adviser to its mayor and common council. The mayor is
chairman of the urban renewal agency and the common council is required
by law to approve the sale of all property subject to urban renewal.
Under these circumstances, may the attorney appear before the urban
renewal agency for the purpose of obtaining a modification of its
present plan which would enable him to purchase the building?
We have previously held it to be improper for certain city officials
to represent private clients in their dealings with urban renewal
agencies. In N.Y. State 110 (1969), for example, we said that it would
be improper for a city councilman to represent private property owners
in condemnation proceedings before the city's urban renewal agency where
it appeared that the council approved various agency projects as well as
mayoral appointments to fill vacancies arising in the agency. Similarly,
in N.Y. State 111 (1969), we said that a lawyer could not perform title
examinations for the urban renewal agency while representing private
property owners in unrelated condemnation cases. The gravamen of both
opinions was that the nature of the attorneys' public duties was such as
to give the appearance of some influence upon the work of the urban
renewal agency and that he could not therefore properly accept private
employment which would require any action on the part of the agency.
While these opinions were rendered prior to the adoption of our Code
of Professional Responsibility, the views expressed therein remain valid
and, indeed, find further support in the ethical considerations set
forth in the present Code. See, EC 5-2, EC 5-3 and EC 8-8; see also, ABA
Inf. 691 (1963) and N.J. Op. No. 92-726 (1969), indexed at 6861, 0.
Maru, Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions (1970); cf., DR
The fact that the attorney in question does not represent or advise
the urban renewal agency itself, is not determinative of the issue. If
his public duties are such as to give the appearance of some influence
on its deliberations, that factor is sufficient to preclude him from
representing private parties and, fortiori, from advancing his personal
interests before the agency.
Since the attorney's official duties include the giving of legal
advice to both the chairman of the urban renewal agency and the common
council, which latter body would ultimately be required to approve the
sale of the subject building, the spectre of undue influence is
inescapable. See, Canon 9.
For the reasons stated, the question posed must be answered in the