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Nelson v. Elizabeth Bd. of Educ.

New Jersey Appellate Division

January 26, 2021

Nelson v. Elizabeth Bd. of Educ. was an appeal from a trial for breach-of-contract between a school board and its former in-house counsel. The Appellate Division questioned whether the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibited in-house counsel from bringing a breach of contract suit against his employer. The parties had entered into a three-year employment contract, but the school board fired the attorney after he was indicted for charges that stemmed from his employment. He was eventually acquitted of those charges after a trial. The Board claimed that it was permitted to fire the lawyer because RPC 1.16(a)(3) broadly prescribes that “[a] client is not forced to entrust matters to an unwanted lawyer.” The Court held that in-house counsel had the right to “pursu[e] damages stemming from his employer’s breach of contract.” The Court intimated that the lawyer would not be permitted to seek reinstatement into his position. Among other minor rulings in this cross-appeal, the Appellate Division held that the plaintiff was entitled to pre-judgment interest on his damages.

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