U.S District Court Judge Frieda L. Wolfson dismissed a lawsuit by a group of New Jersey State Troopers seeking to overturn the ban on allowing them to practice law while being employed by the State Police. The decision was filed on July 9, 2009.

“If the troopers were to prevail on this argument, state agencies would be precluded from holding their public employees, specifically attorneys, to a higher ethical standard than those imposed on private attorneys,” Judge Wolfson wrote in her decision. 

Two trooper unions, and twenty one (21) troopers working as lawyers, had argued the State was preventing troopers from pursuing another profession. The State said representing clients and enforcing the law presents an inherent conflict of interest, prohibited under a 2007 revision of the State’s ethics code.

Frederick J. Gordon, president of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, said they hoped troopers already practicing law could be exempted. “We’re disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “I don’t know what our next step is.”

The unions argued that troopers’ legal work, such as drafting wills or helping with real estate closings, does not conflict with their criminal justice work. However, the State argued that even basic legal tasks could cause problems.”

“By way of example, if a trooper is retained to draft a will for a client, and happens to come across nefarious, possibly illegal, activity during his review of his client’s confidential personal records, the trooper would find himself in an unenviable position, obligated by his duties as an officer of the law to report the crime while simultaneously constrained by his oath as an attorney to protect his client’s confidences,” Judge Wolfson’s decision explained.

The debate centered on a 2007 change to the State’s ethics code. The previous version prohibited almost all attorneys in the department from practicing law outside their job. The revision extended that prohibition to state troopers.

David Wald, spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram, praised Judge Wolfson’s decision. “In rejecting the state troopers’ challenge to that rule, Judge Wolfson recognized the potential for conflicts between a private attorneys’ responsibilities to their clients and the department’s law enforcement responsibilities,” he said. “She concluded that the prohibition on the private practice of law by state troopers was an appropriate means to preserve the public trust.”

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.