Case Digest Canons 14-17
Legal Ethics. Problem Areas in Legal Ethics...
Canons 14-17 Case 1: Burbe vs. Magulta Facts: Dominador P. Burbe filed a complaint for the disbarment or suspension or any other disciplinary action against Atty. Alberto C. Magulta. Complainant alleged that respondent prepared for him a demand letter and some other legal papers. Since there was no settlement of the dispute, Atty. Magulta then suggested that the necessary complaint should be filed which was subsequently drafted by respondent. The filing fee required the amount of P25,000.00. Complainant then deposited the amount of P25,000.00 to Atty. Magulta, upon the instruction that the former needed the case to be filed immediately. Despite repeated demands, no case was filed by Atty. Magulta. Respondent, on the other hand, claims that no lawyer-client relationship existed between him and complainant, because the latter never paid him for services rendered. The former adds that he only drafted the said documents as a personal favor for the kumpadre of one of his partners. Issue: Whether or not there exists a lawyer-client relationship. Ruling: The SC ruled in affirmative. To constitute professional employment, it is not essential that the client employed the attorney professionally on any previous occasion. It is not necessary that any retainer be paid, promised, or charged; neither is it material that the attorney consulted did not afterward handle the case for which his service had been sought. If a person, in respect to business affairs or troubles of any kind, consults a lawyer with a view to obtaining professional advice or assistance, and the attorney voluntarily permits or acquiesces with the consultation, then the professional employment is established. Likewise, a lawyer-client relationship exists notwithstanding the close personal relationship between the lawyer and the complainant or the nonpayment of the former’s fees. Hence, despite the fact that complainant was kumpadre of a law partner of respondent, and that respondent dispensed legal advice to complainant as a personal favor to the kumpadre, the lawyer was duty-
bound to file the complaint he had agreed to prepare -- and had actually prepared -- at the soonest possible time, in order to protect the client’s interest. Case 2: William Uy vs Atty. Fermin Gonzales Facts: William S. Uy filed before the SC an administrative case against Atty. Fermin L. Gonzales for violation of the confidentiality of their lawyer-client relationship. The complainant alleged that he engaged the services of respondent to prepare and file a petition for the issuance of a new certificate of title. When the petition was about to be filed, respondent demanded a certain amount from him other than what they had previously agreed upon. Respondent left his office after reasoning with him. Expecting that said petition would be filed, he was shocked to find out later that instead of filing the petition, respondent filed a letter-complaint against him for Estafa through Falsification of Public Documents. On his answer, respondent maintained that he offered to redeem from complainant a 4.9 hectare-property situated Pangasinan covered by TCT No T-33122 which the latter acquired by purchase from his son. He paid complainant P340,000.00. He then demanded the delivery of TCT No T-33122 as well as the execution of the Deed of Redemption but to no avail. Instead, complainant gave him photocopies of the TCT. Complainant explained that he had already transferred the title of the property, covered by TCT No.T-5165, to his children Michael and Cristina Uy and that said TCT was misplaced and cannot be located. To protect his interest over the said property, he offered his assistance pro bono to prepare a petition for lost title provided that all necessary expenses incident thereto will be shouldered by complainant. However, complainant never gave the necessary expenses. Issue: Whether or not there exists a lawyer-client relationship. Ruling: The SC ruled in negative. A scrutiny of the records reveals that the relationship between complainant and respondent stemmed from a personal transaction or dealings between them rather than the practice of law by respondent. Respondent dealt with complainant only because he redeemed a property which complainant had earlier purchased from his
son. An attorney-client relationship is said to exist when a lawyer voluntarily permits or acquiesces with the consultation of a person, who in respect to a business or trouble of any kind, consults a lawyer with a view of obtaining professional advice or assistance. Considering the attendant peculiar circumstances, said rule cannot apply to the present case. The facts alleged in the complaint for Estafa through Falsification of Public Documents were obtained by respondent due to his personal dealings with complainant. The preparation and the proposed filing of the petition was only incidental to their personal transaction. To hold otherwise would be precluding any lawyer from instituting a case against anyone to protect his personal or proprietary interests. Case 3: Mercado vs. Vitriolo Facts: Rosa F. Mercado filed an administrative complaint against Atty. Julito D. Vitriolo, seeking his disbarment from the practice of law. Complainant’s husband filed for annulment of their marriage with the RTC of Pasig City. In August 1992, Atty. Anastacio P. De Leon, counsel of complainant, died. On February 7, 1994, respondent entered his appearance before the trial court as collaborating counsel for complainant. Respondent then filed a criminal action against complainant for Falsification of Public Document. Respondent alleged that complainant made false entries in the Certificates of Live Birth of her children, Angelica and Katelyn Anne. More specifically, complainant allegedly indicated in said Certificates of Live Birth that she is married to a certain Ferdinand Fernandez, and that their marriage was solemnized on April 11, 1979, when in truth, she is legally married to Ruben G. Mercado and their marriage took place on April 11, 1978. On the other hand, respondent argued that the bases of the falsification case are two certificates of live birth which are public documents and in no way connected with the confidence taken during the engagement of respondent as counsel. Issue: Whether or not an attorney-client privilege exists. Ruling: The SC ruled in negative. Dean Wigmore cites the factors essential to establish the existence of the privilege, to wit:
(1) Where legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal advisor, (8) except the protection be waived. Applying all these rules to the case at bar, the SC held that the evidence on record fails to substantiate complainant’s allegations. The SC noted that complainant did not even specify the alleged communication in confidence disclosed by respondent. All her claims were couched in general terms and lacked specificity. She contends that respondent violated the rule on privileged communication when he instituted a criminal action against her for falsification of public documents because the criminal complaint disclosed facts relating to the civil case for annulment then handled by respondent. She did not, however, spell out these facts which will determine the merit of her complaint. Case 4: Alcala vs. De Vera Facts: Jose Alcala and his wife filed a petition for disbarment against respondent Atty. Honesto De Vera. The latter was retained by the complainants as their counsel in an action for annulment of a sale filed against them. The trial court rendered judgment rescinding the said contract. Respondent received a copy of the decision but he failed to inform his clients of the judgment against them. To their surprise, a sheriff came to their house to serve a writ of execution. This prompted the Alcala spouses to sue respondent for damages. The trial court found for a fact that respondent did not inform his clients of the decision rendered in the first case. However, it denied damages for lack of proof that the spouses Alcala suffered any damage as a result of respondent's failure to notify them of the aforesaid decision. This was later on affirmed by the CA. Issue: Whether or not respondent is guilty of negligence and malpractice. Ruling:
The SC ruled in affirmative. In failing to inform his clients of the decision in said civil case, respondent failed to exercise such skill, care, and diligence as men of the legal profession commonly possess and exercise in such matters of professional employment. The relationship of lawyer-client being one of confidence, there is ever present the need for the client's being adequately and fully informed and should not be left in the dark as to the mode and manner in which his interests are being defended. While there is no finding of malice, deceit, or deliberate intent to cause damage to his clients, there is, nonetheless, proof of negligence, inattention, and carelessness on the part of respondent in his failure to give timely notice of the decision in question. Fortunately for respondent, his negligence did not result in any material or pecuniary damage to the herein complainants and for this reason the SC rebuked and censured respondent. Case 5: Lim vs. Villarosa Case 6: Pormento, Sr. vs. Pontevedra Facts: Elesio C. Pormento, Sr. charged Atty. Elias A. Pontevedra with malpractice. Complainant claims that respondent, who was his lawyer in Civil Case No 1648, deliberately failed to inform him of the dismissal of his counterclaim. Complainant asserts that he only came to know of the existence of the order when the adverse party foreclosed the mortgage executed over the land which is the subject matter of the suit. Complainant also posited that in order to protect his rights, he was forced to file a case for qualified theft against the relatives of the alleged new owner of the said land. Respondent is the counsel of the accused in said case. Lastly, complainant maintained that respondent is guilty of representing conflicting interests when he acted as the counsel of complainant’s nephew in an ejectment case filed by him while notarizing at the same time the Deed of Sale of the land which is the subject matter of the case. On his reply, respondent claimed that within two days upon his receipt of the order, he delivered the same to the complainant. As to his representation of the persons against whom complainant filed criminal cases for theft, respondent argues that he honestly believes that there exists no conflict between his present and former clients’ interests . With
respect to the ejectment case, respondent admits that it was he who notarized the deed of sale of the land. However, he contends that what is being contested in the said case is not the ownership of the land but the ownership of the house built on the said land. Issues: (1) Whether or not respondent failed to inform complainant regarding the dismissal of the latter’s counterclaim. (2) Whether or not respondent represented conflicting interests when he represented the complainant’s nephew in an ejectment case while notarizing at the same time the Deed of Sale of the land involved in the case. (3) Whether or not respondent represented conflicting interests when he represented the accused in the case for qualified theft filed by the complainant. Ruling: The SC ruled in negative for the first two issues. Complainant failed to present evidence to prove that respondent did not inform him of the dismissal of his counterclaim. On the contrary, respondent presented a certification where complainant’s daughter acknowledged receipt of the entire records of the civil case. With respect to the second ground, the SC noted that the only established participation respondent had with respect to the parcel of land purchased by complainant, is that he was the one who notarized the deed of sale. On that basis alone, it does not necessarily follow that respondent obtained any information from complainant that can be used to the detriment of the latter in the ejectment case he filed. However, the SC ruled in affirmative for the last issue. When respondent was the counsel of complainant in Civil Case No. 1648, he became privy to the documents and information that complainant possessed with respect to the said parcel of land. Hence, whatever may be said as to whether or not respondent utilized against complainant any information given to him in a professional capacity, the mere fact of their previous relationship should have precluded him from appearing as counsel for the opposing side. A lawyer is forbidden from representing a subsequent client against a former client when the subject matter of the present controversy is related, directly or indirectly, to the subject matter of
the previous litigation in which he appeared for the former client. The reason for this is found in the relation of attorney and client, which is one of trust and confidence of the highest degree. Case 7: Garcia vs. Manuel Case 8: Yu vs. Tajanlangit Facts: An administrative complaint for disbarment was filed by complainant Avito Yu against respondent Atty. Cesar R. Tajanlangit. Complainant had engaged the services of respondent as defense counsel in a criminal case that resulted to his conviction. Complainant averred that respondent had violated Rule 16.01 of the CPR for failing to return the bailbond to him in the amount P195,000.00 after having withdrawn the same. Respondent, however, contended that complainant had authorized and instructed him to withdraw the cash bond in order to apply the amount as payment for legal fees and reimbursement for expenses. Issue: Whether or not respondent violated Rule 16.01 of the CPR. Ruling: The SC ruled in affirmative. It was not at all improper for respondent to have withdrawn the cash bonds as there was evidence showing that complainant and respondent had entered into a special fee arrangement. But, however justified respondent was in applying the cash bonds to the payment of his services and reimbursement of the expenses he had incurred, the Court agrees with the IBP that he is not excused from rendering an accounting of the same. The highly fiduciary and confidential relation of attorney and client requires that the lawyer should promptly account for all the funds received from, or held by him for, the client. The fact that a lawyer has a lien for his attorney’s fees on the money in his hands collected for his client does not relieve him from the obligation to make a prompt accounting. Therefore, the SC admonished the respondent and held that commission of a similar act in the future will be dealt with more severely.