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Public Attorney’s Office vs. Sandiganbayan [G.R. Nos. 154297-300. February 15, 2008]

24 Sep

Ponente: AZCUNA, J.

FACTS:

Chief Public Attorney filed an Urgent and Ex-Parte Motion to be Relieved as Court-Appointed Counsel with the Special Division of the Sandiganbayan, praying that she be relieved of her duties and responsibilities as counsel de oficio for the said accused on the ground that she had a swelling workload consisting of administrative matters and that the accused are not indigent persons; hence, they are not qualified to avail themselves of the services of PAO. Respondent Court found the reasons of the Chief Public Attorney to be plausible and relieved the Chief Public Attorney as counsel de oficio of former President Joseph Estrada and Mayor Jose Estrada. The remaining eight PAO lawyers filed an Ex-Parte Motion To Be Relieved As Court-Appointed Counsels with respondent Court on the ground that the accused are not indigents; therefore, they are not qualified to avail themselves of the services of PAO. Respondent Court issued a Resolution denying the motion, but retaining two of the eight PAO lawyers, namely, the   petitioners Atty. Usita, Jr. and Atty. Andres.

Later, PAO filed a Manifestation and Compliance which informed the Court that petitioners Atty. Usita and Atty. Andres were appointed as Assistant City Prosecutors of the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office sometime in August 2002, and that PAO is left as the lone petitioner in this case. PAO asserts that while its lawyers are also aware of their duties under Rule 14.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, PAO lawyers are limited by their mandate as government

ISSUE:

Whether or not respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the subject Resolutions retaining two PAO lawyers to act as counsels de oficio for the accused who are not indigent persons.

HELD:

NO. Petition dismissed for being moot.

RATIO:

The Court holds that respondent did not gravely abuse its discretion in issuing the subject Resolutions as the issuance is not characterized by caprice or arbitrariness.  At the time of PAO’s appointment, the accused did not want to avail themselves of any counsel; hence, respondent exercised a judgment call to protect the constitutional right of the accused to be heard by themselves and counsel during the trial of the cases.

Subsequently, respondent reduced the number of PAO lawyers directed to represent the accused, in view of the engagement of new counsels de parte, but retained two of the eight PAO lawyers obviously to meet such possible exigency as the accused again relieving some or all of their private counsels.

In any event, since these cases of the accused in the Sandiganbayan have been finally resolved, this petition seeking that PAO, the only remaining petitioner, be relieved as counsel de oficio therein has become moot.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Case Digests, Legal Ethics

 

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