The court's disciplinary power is not confined to the area covered by the canons. The same principle is applicable to the disciplinary rules which carry the general admonitions that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, N.J. D. R. 1-102(A)(5), or in any conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, N.J. D. R. 1-102(A)(6). A lawyer is held to the highest standards of ethical and moral uprightness when acting as a lawyer. He is subject to disciplinary action when he fails to meet those standards. N.J. D. R. 9-101, requires an attorney to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Respondent attorney was retained to represent tenants' association in their action against their landlord and the managing agent. Respondent filed a complaint in the lower court on behalf of a tenant and for all the other tenants against the landlord and the managing agent. The parties entered into a consent order which provided that respondent would be a co-trustee of the rents collected by the tenants' association. A consent order of dismissal was entered. Subsequently, respondent began to represent the landlord in summary dispossess actions for nonpayment of rent against tenants. The conflict between the tenants' association and the landlord was reported to the ethics committee. Appellant ethics unit petitioned the court to discipline respondent.
Was defendant attorney's conduct proper?
The court reprimanded respondent attorney because his conduct did not meet the ethical standards required of members of the bar. The court held that representation of the tenants against their landlord and its agent as to matters arising out of the tenancy, and subsequent representation of the landlord against the tenants in proceedings arising out of the same relationship and contract was improper.