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Elmer Canoy, complainant, vs. Atty. Jose Max Ortiz, respondent.

A.C. No. 5485. March 16, 2005


Tinga, J.

A Complaint dated 10 April 2001 was filed with the Office of the Bar
Confidant by Elmer Canoy accusing Atty. Jose Max Ortiz of misconduct and
malpractice. It was alleged that Canoy filed a complaint for illegal dismissal
against his former employer, Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines. The complaint was
filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Regional
Arbitration Board VI in Bacolod City. Atty. Ortiz appeared as counsel for Canoy
in this proceeding. In 1998, the labor arbiter hearing the complaint ordered the
parties to submit their respective position papers. Canoy submitted all the
necessary documents and records to Atty. Ortiz for the preparation of the
position paper. Thereafter, he made several unfruitful visits to the office of Atty.
Ortiz to follow-up the progress of the case. After a final visit at the office of
Atty. Ortiz in April of 2000, during which Canoy was told to come back as his
lawyer was not present, Canoy decided to follow-up the case himself with the
NLRC. He was shocked to learn that his complaint was actually dismissed way
back in 1998, for failure to prosecute, the parties not having submitted their
position papers. The dismissal was without prejudice. Canoy alleged that Atty.
Ortiz had never communicated to him about the status of the case, much less the
fact that he failed to submit the position paper.
In the Comment filed by Atty. Ortiz is, he informs the Court that since
commencing his law practice in 1987, he has mostly catered to indigent and low
-income clients, at considerable financial sacrifice to himself. Atty. Ortiz claims
that for more than ten years, his law office was a virtual adjunct of the Public
Attorney's Office with its steady stream of non-paying clients in the "hundreds
or thousands." Canoy was among those low-income clients whom Atty. Ortiz
deigned to represent. The lawyer was apparently confident that the illegal
dismissal case would eventually be resolved by way of compromise. He claims
having prepared the position paper of Canoy, but before he could submit the
same, the Labor Arbiter had already issued the order dismissing the case. Atty.
Ortiz admits though that the period within which to file the position paper had
already lapsed. He attributes this failure to timely file the position paper to the
fact that after his election as Councilor of Bacolod City, "he was frankly
preoccupied with both his functions as a local government official and as a
practicing lawyer." Eventually, "his desire to help was beyond physical
limitations," and he withdrew from his other cases and his "free legal services."
Nonetheless, Atty. Ortiz notes that the dismissal of Canoy's complaint was
without prejudice, thus the prescriptive period had been tolled. He claims not
being able to remember whether he immediately informed Canoy of the
dismissal of the case, though as far as he could recall, Canoy had conveyed a
message to him that he had a lawyer to handle the case, thus his office did not
insist on refiling the same.
The matter was referred to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for
investigation, report and recommendation. Canoy eventually submitted a motion
withdrawing the complaint, but this was not favorably acted upon by the IBP in
view of the rule that the investigation of a case shall not be interrupted or
terminated by reason of withdrawal of the charges. Eventually, the investigating
commissioner concluded that "clearly, the records show that Atty. Ortiz failed to
exercise that degree of competence and diligence required of him in prosecuting
his clients' claim," and recommended that Atty. Ortiz be reprimanded. The IBP
Commission on Discipline adopted the recommendation, with the slight
modification that Atty. Ortiz be likewise warned that a repetition of the same
negligence shall be dealt with more severely in the future.
The Court is sensitive to the difficulties in obtaining legal representation
for indigent or low-income litigants. Apart from the heroic efforts of
government entities such as the Public Attorney's Office, groups such as the IBP
National Committee on Legal Aid and the Office of Legal Aid of the UP
College of Law have likewise been at the forefront in the quest to provide legal
representation for those who could not otherwise afford the services of lawyers.
The efforts of private practitioners who assist in this goal are especially
commendable, owing to their sacrifice in time and resources beyond the call of
duty and without expectation of pecuniary reward. Yet, the problem of under-
representation of indigent or low-income clients is just as grievous as that of
non-representation. Admirable as the apparent focus of Atty. Ortiz's legal
practice may have been, his particular representation of Canoy in the latter's
illegal dismissal case leaves much to be desired. Several of the canons and rules
in the Code of Professional Responsibility guard against the sort of conduct
displayed by Atty. Ortiz with respect to the handling of Canoy's case, such as
Canons 17, 18, 22, Rule 18.03, 18.04 and 22.02.
That the case was dismissed without prejudice, thus allowing Canoy to
refile the case, hardly serves to mitigate the liability of Atty. Ortiz, as the failure
to file the position paper is per se a violation of Rule 18.03. Neither is the Court
mollified by the circumstance of Atty. Ortiz's election as a City Councilor of
Bacolod City, as his adoption of these additional duties does not exonerate him
of his negligent behavior. The Code of Professional Responsibility does allow a
lawyer to withdraw his legal services if the lawyer is elected or appointed to a
public office. Statutes expressly prohibit the occupant of particular public
offices from engaging in the practice of law, such as governors and mayors, and
in such instance, the attorney-client relationship is terminated. However, city
councilors are allowed to practice their profession or engage in any occupation
except during session hours, and in the case of lawyers such as Atty. Ortiz,
subject to certain prohibitions which are not relevant to this case. In such case,
the lawyer nevertheless has the choice to withdraw his/her services. Still, the
severance of the relation of attorney-client is not effective until a notice of
discharge by the client or a manifestation clearly indicating that purpose is filed
with the court or tribunal, and a copy thereof served upon the adverse party, and
until then, the lawyer continues to be counsel in the case.
Assuming that Atty. Ortiz was justified in terminating his services, he,
however, cannot just do so and leave complainant in the cold unprotected.
Indeed, Rule 22.02 requires that a lawyer who withdraws or is discharged shall,
subject to a lien, immediately turn over all papers and property to which the
client is entitled, and shall cooperate with his successor in the orderly transfer of
the matter. Atty. Ortiz claims that the reason why he took no further action on
the case was that he was informed that Canoy had acquired the services of
another counsel. Assuming that were true, there was no apparent coordination
between Atty. Ortiz and this new counsel. In fact, it took nearly two years before
Canoy had learned that the position paper had not been filed and that the case
had been dismissed. This was highly irresponsible of Atty. Ortiz, much more so
considering that Canoy was one of the indigent clients whom Atty. Ortiz
proudly claims as his favored clientele. It does not escape the Court's attention
that Atty. Ortiz faults Canoy for not adequately following up the case with his
office. He cannot now shift the blame to complainant for failing to inquire about
the status of the case, since, as stated above, it was his duty as lawyer to inform
his clients of the status of cases entrusted to him.
Lawyers who devote their professional practice in representing litigants
who could ill afford legal services deserve commendation. However, this mantle
of public service will not deliver the lawyer, no matter how well-meaning, from
the consequences of negligent acts. It is not enough to say that all pauper
litigants should be assured of legal representation. They deserve quality
representation as well.
Wherefore, respondent Atty. Jose Max S. Ortiz is ordered suspended from
the practice of law for one (1) month from notice, with the warning that a
repetition of the same negligence will be dealt with more severely.
Felicisimo M. Montano, complainant, vs. Integrated Bar of the Philippines
and Atty. Juan S. Dealca, respondents.
A.M. No. 4215. May 21, 2001
Kapunan, J.

In a verified complaint led before this Court on March 9, 1994,


complainant Felicisimo M. Montano charged Atty. Juan Dealca with misconduct
and prays that he be "sternly dealt with administratively."
On November 14, 1992, the complainant hired the services of Atty. Juan
S. Dealca as his counsel in collaboration with Atty. Ronando L. Gerona in a
case pending before the Court of Appeals docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 37467
wherein the complainant was the plaintiff-appellant. The parties agreed
upon attorney's fees in the amount of P15,000.00, fifty percent (50%) of which
was payable upon acceptance of the case and the remaining balance upon the
termination of the case. Accordingly, complainant paid respondent the amount
of P7,500.00 representing 50% of the attorney's fee. Thereafter, even
before respondent counsel had prepared the appellant's brief and contrary to
their agreement that the remaining balance be payable after the termination of
the case, Atty. Dealca demanded an additional payment from complainant.
Complainant obliged by paying the amount of P4,000.00. Prior to the filing of
the appellant's brief, respondent counsel again demanded payment of the
remaining balance of P3,500.00. When complainant was unable to do so,
respondent lawyer withdrew his appearance as complainant's counsel without
his prior knowledge and/or conformity. Complainant claimed that such conduct
by respondent counsel exceeded the ethical standards of the law profession and
prays that the latter be sternly dealt with administratively. Complainant later on
led motions praying for the imposition of the maximum penalty of disbarment.
After respondent counsel led his comment on the complaint, the Court
referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation,
report and recommendation. The Investigating Commissioner found respondent
counsel guilty of unprofessional conduct and recommended that he be "severely
reprimanded." IBP Board of Governors resolved that the penalty recommended
by the Investigating Commissioner meted to respondent be amended to "three
(3) months suspension from the practice of law for having been found guilty of
misconduct, which eroded the public confidence regarding his duty as a lawyer.
Respondent counsel sought reconsideration of the aforementioned
resolution of the IBP, alleging that the latter misapprehended the facts and that,
in any case, he did not deserve the penalty imposed. The true facts are that the
complainant went to the respondent to prepare and submit his appellant's brief
on time at the agreed fee of P15,000.00, 50% down and 50% upon its
completion; respondent was able to finish the appellant's brief ahead of its
deadline, so he advised the complainant about its completion with the request
that the remaining balance of P7,500.00 be paid. Complainant paid P4,000.00
only, promising to pay the P3,500.00 "tomorrow" or on "later particular date";
when that "tomorrow" or on a "later particular date" came, respondent requested
the complainant to pay the P3,500.00 as promised but word was sent that he will
again pay "tomorrow" or on a "later date”; even without being paid completely,
respondent, of his own free will and accord, filed complainant's brief on time;
after the brief was led, respondent tried to collect from the complainant the
remaining balance of P3,500.00, but the latter made himself scarce. As the
records would show, such P3,500.00 remains unpaid until now; sensing that
something was amiss, respondent sent the February 28, 1993 note and case
folder to the complainant, hoping that the latter would see personally the former
about it to settle the matter between them; however, instead of seeing the
respondent, complainant filed this case; respondent was constrained to file his
withdrawal with the Court of Appeals because of this case to avoid further
misunderstanding since he was the one who signed the appellant's brief
although Atty. Gerona was his counsel of record. Such withdrawal was
accordingly granted by the appellate court; respondent counsel further averred
that complainant's refusal to pay the agreed lawyer's fees, measly as it was, was
deliberate and in bad faith; hence, his withdrawal as counsel was "just, ethical
and proper."
In its Resolution, the IBP denied Atty. Dealca's motion for
reconsideration. The IBP issued Resolution No XIII-98-42 referring the case to
Commissioner Vibar for evaluation, report, and recommendation. The
Investigating Commissioner, recommended that his original recommendation of
the imposition of the penalty of reprimand be maintained, noting that
respondent counsel had served the IBP well as President of the Sorsogon
Chapter. Accordingly, the IBP Board of Governors, issued the resolution
granting the penalty of REPRIMAND earlier recommended by the Investigating
Commissioner be imposed on Atty. Juan S. Dealca. Complainant asked the IBP
to reconsider the foregoing resolution but the motion was denied.
Complainant led with this Court a petition for review on certiorari against
the IBP and respondent counsel averring that the IBP Board of Governors
committed grave abuse of discretion when it overturned its earlier resolution
and granted respondent counsel's motion for reconsideration. The IBP
conducted a re-evaluation of the case and came up with the assailed resolution
now sought to be reversed. The Court holds that the error is not attributable to
the IBP. Going into the merits, the Court affirm the findings made by the IBP
that complainant engaged the services of respondent lawyer only for the
preparation and submission of the appellant's brief and the attorney's fees was
payable upon the completion and submission of the appellant's brief and not
upon the termination of the case. There is sufficient evidence which indicates
complainant's willingness to pay the attorney's fees. As agreed upon,
complainant paid half of the fees in the amount of P7,500.00 upon acceptance
of the case. And while the remaining balance was not yet due as it was agreed to
be paid only upon the completion and submission of the brief, complainant
nonetheless delivered to respondent lawyer P4,000.00 as the latter demanded.
This, notwithstanding, Atty. Dealca withdrew his appearance simply because of
complainant's failure to pay the remaining balance of P3,500.00, which does not
appear to be deliberate. The situation was aggravated by respondent counsel's
note to complainant withdrawing as counsel which was couched in impolite and
insulting language.
Given the above circumstances, was Atty. Dealca's conduct just and
proper? The Court finds Atty. Dealca's conduct unbecoming of a member of the
legal profession. Under Canon 22 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, a
lawyer shall withdraw his services only for good cause and upon notice
appropriate in the circumstances. Although he may withdraw his services when
the client deliberately fails to pay the fees for the services, under the
circumstances of the present case, Atty. Dealca's withdrawal was unjustified as
complainant did not deliberately fail to pay him the attorney's fees. In fact,
complainant exerted honest efforts to fulfil his obligation. Respondent's
contemptuous conduct does not speak well of a member of the bar considering
that the amount owing to him was only P3,500.00.
The Court, however, does not agree with complainant's contention that
the maximum penalty of disbarment should be imposed on respondent lawyer.
The power to disbar must be exercised with great caution. Only in a clear case
of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and character of the lawyer as
an of cer of the Court and member of the bar will disbarment be imposed as a
penalty. It should never be decreed where a lesser penalty, such as temporary
suspension, would accomplish the end desired. In the present case, reprimand is
deemed sufficient.
Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, respondent Atty. Juan S. Dealca is
reprimanded with a warning that repetition of the same act will be dealt with
more severely
.
Angelita C. Orcino , complainant, vs. Atty. Josue Gaspar, respondent.
Adm. Case No. 3773. September 24, 1997
Puno, J.

On June 14, 1992, complainant Angelita C. Orcino led with this Court a
letter-complaint dated December 10, 1991 against respondent Atty. Josue
Gaspar, her former counsel. Complainant prayed that this Court impose
disciplinary sanctions on respondent for abandoning his duties and for failing to
return the legal fees she fully paid for his services.
The complaint arose from the following facts: complainant engaged the
services of respondent to prosecute a criminal case she intended to file against
several suspects in the slaying of her husband. In consideration thereof,
complainant bound herself to pay respondent legal fees of P20,000.00 —
P10,000.00 to be paid upon signing of the contract and the balance to be paid on
or before the conclusion of the case. Complainant was also to pay P500.00 per
appearance of respondent before the court and fiscal. This agreement was
embodied in a contract executed on February 22, 1991. In accordance with the
contract, complainant paid respondent the sum of P5,000.00 on February 25,
1991, another P5,000.00 on March 31, 1991, 3 and P10,000.00 on May 21,
1991, 4 for a total of P20,000.00. Forthwith, respondent entered into his duties.
He interviewed witnesses and gathered evidence to build a case against the
suspects. He drew up the necessary sworn statements and dutifully attended the
preliminary investigation. The case was thereafter filed with the Regional Trial
Court, Branch 37, Baloc, Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija. As private prosecutor,
respondent religiously attended the bail hearings for the accused although these
hearings were postponed on motion of the accused's counsel. Respondent
however failed to attend the hearing scheduled in August 1991. It was at this
hearing that the court, over complainant's objections, granted bail to all the
accused. After the hearing, complainant immediately went to respondent's
residence and confronted him with his absence. Respondent explained that he
did not receive formal notice of the hearing. Complainant became belligerent
and started accusing him of jeopardizing the case by his absence. Respondent
said that her suspicions were based on rumors and intrigues fed to her by her
relatives. Complainant, however, continued accusing him belligerently. She
asked for the records of the case saying that she could refer them to another
lawyer. Stung by her words, respondent gave her the records. Complainant
never returned the records nor did she see respondent. On September 18, 1991,
respondent led before the trial court a "Motion to Withdraw as Counsel. The
motion did not bear the consent of complainant.
On October 23, 1991, the court issued an order directing respondent to
secure complainant's consent to the motion "and his appearance as private
prosecutor shall continue until he has secured this consent." Complainant
refused to sign her conformity to respondent's withdrawal. Meanwhile, the
hearings in the criminal case continued. Respondent did not appear at the
hearings nor did he contact complainant. Complainant was thus compelled to
engage the services of another lawyer. Hence, the letter-complaint.
The Court referred the letter-complaint to the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines, Commission on Bar Discipline, for investigation, report and
recommendation. The rule in this jurisdiction is that a client has the absolute
right to terminate the attorney-client relation at any time with or without cause.
The right of an attorney to withdraw or terminate the relation other than for
sufficient cause is, however, considerably restricted. Among the fundamental
rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes to conduct an
action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its conclusion. He is not at liberty to
abandon it without reasonable cause. A lawyer's right to withdraw from a case
before its final adjudication arises only from the client's written consent or from
a good cause.
According to Rule 22.01 of Canon 22 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility, a lawyer may withdraw his services from his client only in the
following instances: (a) when a client insists upon an unjust or immoral conduct
of his case; (b) when the client insists that the lawyer pursue conduct violative
of the Code of Professional Responsibility; (c) when the client has two or more
retained lawyers and the lawyers could not get along to the detriment of the
case; (d) when the mental or physical condition of the lawyer makes him
incapable of handling the case effectively; (e) when the client deliberately fails
to pay the attorney's fees agreed upon; (f) when the lawyer is elected or
appointed to public office; (g) other similar cases.
The instant case does not fall under any of the grounds mentioned.
Neither can this be considered analogous to the grounds enumerated. As found
by the Commission on Bar Discipline, this case arose from a simple
misunderstanding between complainant and respondent. Complainant was upset
by respondent's absence at the hearing where bail was granted to the suspected
killers of her husband. She vehemently opposed the grant of bail. It was thus a
spontaneous and natural reaction for her to confront respondent with his
absence. Her belligerence arose from her overzealousness, nothing more.
Complainant's words and actions may have hurt respondent's feelings
considering the work he had put into the case. But her words were uttered in a
burst of passion. And even at that moment, complainant did not expressly
terminate respondent's services. She made this clear when she refused to sign
his "Motion to Withdraw as Counsel."
Assuming, nevertheless, that respondent was justified in terminating his
services, he, however, cannot just do so and leave complainant in the cold
unprotected. The lawyer has no right to presume that his petition for withdrawal
will be granted by the court. Until his withdrawal shall have been approved, the
lawyer remains counsel of record who is expected by his client as well as by the
court to do what the interests of his client require. He must still appear on the
date of hearing 23 for the attorney-client relation does not terminate formally
until there is a withdrawal of record.
Respondent expressly bound himself under the contract to bring the
criminal case to its termination. He was in fact paid in full for his services.
Respondent failed to comply with his undertaking, hence, it is but fair that he
return to complainant half of the amount paid him. The peculiar circumstances
of the case have rendered it impossible for respondent and complainant to
continue their relation under the contract.
In view whereof, respondent is admonished to exercise more
prudence and judiciousness in dealing with his clients. He is also ordered to
return to complainant within fifteen (15) days from notice the amount of
ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) representing a portion of his legal fees
received from the latter with a warning that failure on his part to do so will
result in the imposition of stiffer disciplinary action.
Elisa V. Venterez, Genaro De Vera, Inocencia V. Ramirez,
Pacita V. Mills, Antonina V. Palma And Ramon De Vera, complainants,
vs. Atty. Rodrigo R. Cosme, respondent.
A.C. No. 7421. October 10, 2007
Chico-Nazario, J.

Complainants Eliza V. Venterez, Genaro de Vera, Inocencia V. Ramirez,


Pacita V. Mills, Antonina V. Palma and Ramon de Vera contracted the legal
services of Atty. Rodrigo R. Cosme in Civil Case No. 981 before the Municipal
Trial Court of Calasiao, Pangasinan. Respondent represented the complainants,
who were defendants in said case, until MTC rendered a decision ruling against
the complainants. Complainants alleged that they directed the respondent to
either file a Motion for Reconsideration or a Notice of Appeal, but respondent
failed or refused to do so. Complainant Elisa V. Venterez was constrained to
contract another lawyer to prepare the Motion for Reconsideration which was
filed on 19 March 2004. It must be stressed that the said motion was signed by
complainant Elisa V. Venterez herself as the said lawyer did not enter his
appearance. The said Motion for Reconsideration was denied by the MTC.
Respondent was not furnished a copy of the denial of the motion. A Motion for
Issuance of Writ of Execution was filed by the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 981
but respondent never bothered to file an opposition to or any comment. The
motion was eventually granted by the MTC. Two months after respondent
received a copy of the Decision, the respondent filed his Notice of Retirement
of Counsel with the MTC. Feeling aggrieved by respondent's actuations,
complainants filed the instant administrative complaint against him.
Respondent denied the claim against him. For his defense, respondent
averred that Salvador Ramirez (the son of complainant Inocencia V. Ramirez),
informed him that "he was withdrawing the case from the respondent because
he already engaged another lawyer to take over the case, so respondent gave the
records of the case to him." Respondent explained that he turned over the
records of the case to him and the respondent ceased as the counsel of the
complainants." Respondent further alleged that the said Motion for
Reconsideration was already prepared by another lawyer. Respondent argued
that "when the respondent was served a copy of the Motion for Writ of
Execution, he immediately notified Salvador Ramirez but Salvador came to see
him when the respondent asked him to sign a Notice of Retirement of Counsel."
Pursuant to the complaint, a hearing was conducted by the Commission
on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. Investigating
Commissioner Dennis A. B. Funa finds respondent liable for gross negligence
and recommending the imposition upon him of the penalty of three months
suspension. Thereafter, the IBP Board of Governors approved and adopted the
recommendation. The court sustains the findings and recommendation of the
IBP Board of Governors.
The core issue is whether the respondent committed culpable negligence
in handling complainants' case, as would warrant disciplinary action.
No lawyer is obliged to advocate for every person who may wish to
become his client, but once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, the lawyer
owes fidelity to such cause and must be mindful of the trust and confidence
reposed in him. Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an
attorney who undertakes an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its
termination, that is, until the case becomes final and executory. A lawyer is not
at liberty to abandon his client and withdraw his services without reasonable
cause and only upon notice appropriate in the circumstances. The Court cannot
accept respondent's defense that he had already withdrawn from the case two
days after his receipt of the MTC Decision and that he had allegedly
communicated this withdrawal to Salvador Ramirez, son of one of the herein
complainants, Inocencia Ramirez. It is an apparent attempt on the part of
respondent to wash his hands of any liability for failing to pursue any of the
available remedies to complainants from the adverse MTC Decision.
The rule in this jurisdiction is that a client has the absolute right to
terminate the attorney-client relation at any time with or without cause. The
right of an attorney to withdraw or terminate the relation other than for
sufficient cause is, however, considerably restricted. A lawyer may retire at any
time from any action or special proceeding with the written consent of his client
filed in court and with a copy thereof served upon the adverse party. Should the
client refuse to give his consent, the lawyer must file an application with the
court. The court, on notice to the client and adverse party, shall determine
whether the lawyer ought to be allowed to retire. The application for withdrawal
must be based on a good cause. What constitute good cause for the withdrawal
of services by the counsel are identified under Rule 22.01, Canon 22 of the
Code of Professional Responsibility. The instant case does not fall under any of
the grounds aforementioned. Neither can the circumstances of this case be
considered analogous to the grounds thus explicitly enumerated. Contrary to
respondent's contention, his professional relations as a lawyer with his clients
are not terminated by the simple turnover of the records of the case to his
clients. Respondent's defense completely crumbles in face of the fact that
Salvador Ramirez is not even a party in Civil Case No. 981 and, hence, had no
authority to withdraw the records of the said case from respondent or to
terminate the latter's services.
Wherefore, the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors approving and
adopting the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner is
affirmed. Accordingly, Atty. Rodrigo R. Cosme is hereby suspended from the
practice of law for a period of three (3) months, with a stern warning that a
repetition of the same or similar wrongdoing will be dealt with more severely.
Maria Earl Beverly C. Ceniza, complainant, vs.
Atty. Vivian G. Rubia, respondent.
A.C. No. 6166, October 2, 2009
Ynares-Santiago

On May 3, 2002, complainant sought the legal services of the respondent


in regard to the share of her mother-in-law in the estate of her husband Carlos
Ceniza. As she had no money to pay for attorney's fees since her mother-in-law
would arrive from the United States only in June 2002, respondent made her
sign a promissory note for P32,000.00, which amount was lent by Domingo
Natavio. After her mother-in- law arrived and paid the loan, respondent
furnished them a copy of the complaint for partition and recovery of
ownership/possession representing legitime but with no docket number on it.
They kept on following up the progress of the complaint. However, three
months lapsed before respondent informed them that it was already led in court.
It was then that they received a copy of the complaint with "Civil Case No.
4198" and a rubber stamped "RECEIVED" thereon. However, when
complainant verified the status of the case with the Clerk of Court of the
Regional Trial Court of Davao del Sur, she was informed that no case with said
title and docket number was filed.
Further, complainant alleged that respondent was guilty of gross
ignorance of the law for intending to file the complaint in Davao del Sur when
the properties to be recovered were located in Koronadal, South Cotabato and
Malungon, Sarangani Province. Complainant also alleged that respondent
forged the signature of her husband, Carlito C. Ceniza, in the Affidavit of Loss
attached to a petition for issuance of a new owner's duplicate certificate of title.
In her comment, respondent assailed the personality of the complainant to
institute the administrative complaint for disbarment as she was not a party to
the action for partition and recovery of ownership/possession. As such, her
allegations in the administrative complaint were all hearsay, self -serving and
unsubstantiated. Further, the charge of forgery of the Affidavit of Loss was
belied by the March 3, 2003 decision of the trial court, wherein Carlito C.
Ceniza affimed his statements in the said affidavit when he was called to testify.
Respondent led a Manifestation with Urgent Motion praying that the
administrative complaint be likewise dismissed in view of the dismissal of the
criminal case due to complainant's apparent lack of interest to prosecute.
On the alleged filing of the subject civil complaint, it is undisputed that
the same was not led before the Office of the Clerk of Court, as evidenced by a
Certification from the said office. Thus, the claim of complainant that
respondent falsified or caused it to falsify the stamp marked, finds factual and
legal bases. It bears stress that a copy of the subject civil complaint was
obtained by complainant from the respondent herself who tried to impress upon
the former that contrary to her suspicion, the subject civil complaint was already
led in court. However, inquiry made by the complainant shows otherwise.
Respondent's contention that after one copy of the complaint was already
stamped by court personnel in preparation for receiving the same and entering
in the court's docket, she caused it to be withdrawn after realizing that the same
lacked certain attachments, is bereft of merit. In the first place, respondent
miserably failed to mention these lacking attachments that allegedly caused the
withdrawal of the complaint. Secondly, and assuming arguendo that the
withdrawal was due to lacking attachments, how come the same was not led in
the next office day complete with attachments. And lastly, the Certification of
the Clerk of Court clearly states that Civil Case No. 4188 is not the case of
Mercedes Callejo vda. De Ceniza, et al. vs. Charlotte Ceniza, et al.
The IBP Investigating Commissioner recommended that respondent be
found guilty of falsification of public document and be meted the penalty of
suspension from the practice of law for a period of three years. The Board of
Governors of the IBP issued a Resolution ruling that Atty. Vivian G. Rubia is
hereby disbarred. However, the Board of Governors reconsidered by reducing
the recommended penalty of disbarment to five years suspension from the
practice of law. The IBP forwarded the instant case to the Court.
The sole issue in this case is whether or not there is preponderant
evidence to warrant the imposition of administrative sanction against the
respondent.
In accusing respondent of falsification of public document, complainant
alleged that respondent misrepresented to her that the complaint was already
filed in court, when in fact, upon verification with the RTC Clerk of Court, it
was not. Such misrepresentation is shown by the copy of the complaint with a
stamped "RECEIVED" and docket number thereon. Apart from said allegations,
complainant has not proferred any proof tending to show that respondent
deliberately falsified a public document. A perusal of the records shows that
complainant's evidence consists solely of her Affidavit-Complaint and the
annexes attached therewith. She did not appear in all the mandatory conferences
set by the investigating commissioner in order to give respondent the chance to
test the veracity of her assertions. It is one thing to allege gross misconduct,
ignorance of the law or falsification of public document and another to
demonstrate by evidence the specific acts constituting the same. Indeed,
complainant has no way of knowing the surrounding circumstances behind the
filing of the complaint by respondent's staff because she was not present when
the same was filed with the trial court. Complainant failed to disprove by
preponderant evidence respondent's claim that the case was not filed but was in
fact withdrawn after it was stamped with "RECEIVED" and assigned with a
docket number. We find this explanation satisfactory and plausible considering
that the stamp did not bear the signature of the receiving court personnel, which
is normally done when pleadings are received by the court. Further, the
certification of the RTC Clerk of Court that the complaint was not filed and that
"Civil Case No. 4198" pertained to another case, did not diminish the
truthfulness of respondent's claim, but even tended to bolster it. Necessarily, as
the complaint was not filed, docket number "4198" indicated in the copy of the
complaint was assigned to another case thereafter filed in court. Thus, for lack
of preponderant evidence, the investigating commissioner's ruling that
respondent was guilty of falsification of public document, as adopted by the IBP
Board of Governors, has no factual basis to stand on.
However, the Court finds that respondent committed some acts for which
she should be disciplined or administratively sanctioned. Respondent's
transgression is compounded further when she severed the lawyer-client
relationship due to overwhelming workload demanded by her new employer
Nakayama Group of Companies, which constrained her to return the money
received as well as the records of the case, thereby leaving her client with no
representation. Standing alone, heavy workload is not sufficient reason for the
withdrawal of her services. Clearly, respondent violated the Lawyer's Oath
which imposes upon every member of the bar the duty to delay no man for
money or malice, Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of Canon 18, and Canon 22 of the
Code of Professional Responsibility. When a lawyer accepts to handle a case,
whether for a fee or gratis et amore, he undertakes to give his utmost attention,
skill and competence to it, regardless of its significance. Thus, his client,
whether rich or poor, has the right to expect that he will discharge his duties
diligently and exert his best efforts, learning and ability to prosecute or defend
his (client's) cause with reasonable dispatch. Failure to fulfill his duties will
subject him to grave administrative liability as a member of the Bar. For the
overriding need to maintain the faith and confidence of the people in the legal
profession demands that an erring lawyer should be sanctioned.
Wherefore, respondent Atty. Vivian G. Rubia is found g uilty of violation
of Rule 18.03 and Canon 22 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Accordingly, she is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months
effective immediately, with a warning that similar infractions in the future will
be dealt with more severely.
Jesus M. Ferrer, complainant, vs. Atty. Jose Allan M. Tebelin, respondent.
A.C. No. 6590. June 27, 2005
Carpio-Morales

On December 3, 2001, the jeepney of Jesus M. Ferrer (complainant) was


involved in a vehicular accident allegedly due to the reckless driving of the
driver of Global Link Multimodal Transport, Inc. (Global Link). As a result of
the vehicular accident, complainant claimed to have suffered damages in the
amount of P34,650.00 representing cost of repair of the jeepney and P800.00
per day representing lost earnings. Complainant sought assistance from the
Complaint/Information Assistance Office of the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office
wherein one Victor Veron referred him to Atty. Jose Allan M. Tebelin
(respondent). Agreeing to render legal services to complainant, respondent
charged and received from him the amount of P5,000.00 as acceptance fee.
Complainant later brought to the attention of the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines (IBP) his complaint against respondent for allegedly abandoning his
case and refusing to talk or see him. Acting on the complaint, the IBP-CBD
required respondent to submit his Answer.
Respondent, by Answer, denying some of the allegations against him,
explained as follows: He agreed to handle the case of complainant for which he
received P5,000.00 as acceptance fee. Prior to his acceptance to handle the case,
however, he extensively interviewed complainant and advised him that the only
"appropriate" case that could be filed against Global Link is a civil case for
damages as a result of the reckless driving of Global Link's unidentified driver,
but that the filing of a complaint would take some time as he (respondent)
would "work first to have an audience or talk with [Global Link's] manager or
representative". He thus accordingly called the attention of Global Link, through
one Mr. Bongalos, regarding the claim of complainant but he received no word
from Global Link, prompting him to send a demand letter.
Respecting complainant's allegation that he (respondent) would always
hang up the telephone whenever complainant called him, respondent denied the
same, he asseverating that complainant never called him up, albeit his
(complainant's) daughter called him up and it was to her that he explained that
Global Link's reply to the demand for payment of damages had to be awaited
first. Respondent did deny too having abandoned complainant's case, he
advancing that he in fact prepared a draft of a complaint against Global Link a
copy of which he also attached to his Answer. Respondent nevertheless
proffered that he was willing to return the P5,000.00 and complainant's records
of the case.
Complainant manifested that he welcomed and appreciated respondent's
offer to return the P5,000.00 "as that is the very intention under the sound
discretion of the Honorable Commission on Bar Discipline." The hearing of the
case was reset on May 29, 2003 at which only two ladies who identified
themselves as Conchita Ferrer and Grace Ochoa appeared and informed the
IBP-CBD that complainant had died on January 2, 2003. The heirs of
complainant were thus ordered to submit a certified true copy of his death
certificate and a formal notice of substitution of party-complainant, but there is
no showing that they complied therewith. On the scheduled hearing on July 10,
2003, only Conchita Ferrer appeared. What transpired on said date, the records
do not show. The IBP-CBD subsequently issued on January 30, 2004 a Notice
of Mandatory Conference on March 12, 2004. On the scheduled mandatory
conference, no one showed up. While a copy of the notice of said conference
was sent to respondent at his given address, it was returned with a notation
"moved out." The hearing of the case was reset to April 16, 2004 and June 24,
2004 during which, again, no one showed up. The IBP-CBD thereupon acted on
the pleadings and submitted its Report and Recommendation prepared by
Commissioner Wilfredo E. J. E. Reyes. It is respectfully recommended that
respondent Atty. Jose Allan M. Tebelin be suspended for a period of two (2)
years for his failure to perform his services for a client and returning the
acceptance fee upon demand. It is further recommended that respondent be
ordered to return to his client the money in the amount of P5,000.00 to the heirs
of complainant. And an additional penalty of at least one (1) year for failure of
said lawyer to appear and present his proper address before the Commission on
Bar Discipline. By Resolution, the Board of Governors of the IBP adopted and
approved, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the
Investigating Commissioner, finding the recommendation fully supported by the
evidence on records and the applicable laws and rules.
This Court faults respondent for ignoring the notices of hearing sent to
him at his address which he himself furnished, or to notify the IBP-CBD his
new address if indeed he had moved out of his given address. His actuation
betrays his lack of courtesy, his irresponsibility as a lawyer. This Court faults
respondent too for welching on his manifestation-undertaking to return the
P5,000.00, not to mention the documents bearing on the case, to complainant or
his heirs. Such is reflective of his reckless disregard of the duty imposed on him
by Rule 22.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Wherefore, respondent Atty. Jose Allan M. Tebelin is hereby suspended from
the practice of law for two (2) months and ordered to return to complainant's
heirs the amount of p5,000.00, with legal interest, with a warning that a
repetition of the same or similar offenses will be dealt with more severely.