Duty to reveal material facts to tribunal – In re Seelig

RPC 3.3(a)(5) provides that a lawyer shall not knowingly fail to disclose to a tribunal a material fact with knowledge that the tribunal may tend to be misled by the non-disclosure. In light of this RPC, does a New Jersey attorney act unethically when he knowingly fails to reveal to a municipal court judge during a plea hearing on a traffic ticket that two people died as a result of his client’s conduct?

This issue was answered today in In re Seelig. In this disciplinary opinion, written by the Chief Justice, the Court ruled that a New Jersey attorney does have such an obligation when the material facts are in the public record. In this case, neither the Sixth Amendment nor any duty owed to his client should have prevented the attorney from informing the municipal court judge of the homicides associated with the defendant’s motor vehicle offenses.

In light of the attorney’s good faith and the novelty of the legal issue in this case, six of the Justices voted to refrain from imposing any discipline.

Download a copy of In re Seelig

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