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Volume 5 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 94

Opinions of Counsel index

Conflict of interest (county attorney - taxpayer’s attorney in assessment review proceedings) - County Law, § 501; Real Property Tax Law, § 512-a:

It would be a conflict of interest for a county attorney to represent private property owners in administrative or judicial proceedings to review real property assessments.

Our opinion has been requested as to whether it would constitute a conflict of interest for a county attorney to represent property owners at administrative assessment review proceedings.

Subdivision 1 of section 501 of the County Law provides, in part:

1. The county attorney shall be the legal advisor to the board of supervisors and every officer whose compensation is paid from county funds in all matters involving an official act of a civil nature. The county attorney shall prosecute and defend all civil actions and proceedings brought by or against the county, a board of supervisors and any officer whose compensation is paid from county funds for any official act except as otherwise provided by this chapter or other law. . . .

Subdivision 4 of such section provides as follows:

4. A board of supervisors may include in such directions the rendering of advice and service to town boards and town officers when not in conflict with the interests of the county, board of supervisors or an officer whose compensation is paid from county funds.

Section 512-a of the Real Property Tax Law provides, in part:

If the board of review of any assessing unit fails to meet for the purpose of hearing complaints in relation to the assessments on the day specified by law, any person claiming to be aggrieved by an assessment may, within 10 days from such date, file a complaint . . . with the clerk of the board of supervisors. Not later than the day specified by law for the completion of the assessment roll, the county treasurer, the chairman of the board of supervisors and the clerk of the board of supervisors, acting as a board of review with all the powers and duties of a board of review . . . shall upon ten days’ notice to the person claiming to be aggrieved hear such complaint and determine the assessment of the real property concerned.

Also, since the county would be bound by any judgment as a result of a judicial proceeding commenced pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law, it would appear that the county would be allowed to intervene in such proceeding pursuant to section 1012 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules (Stanford Associates v. Board of Assessors of the Town of Niskayuna, 39 App. Div.2d 800, 332 N.Y.S.2d 286).

Accordingly, based on his possible role on behalf of the county and its officers in tax certiorari matters, it is the opinion of this office that it would be a conflict of interest for a county attorney to represent owners in administrative or judicial proceedings to review real property assessments.

However, we do not believe that a conflict of interest arises in the event that a partner in a law firm with which the county attorney is associated represents property owners in assessment review proceedings in such county, provided the county attorney is not actively involved in such proceedings and does not share in any proceeds which may result therefrom.

August 24, 1976

Updated: