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Category Archives: Legal Ethics

Solidon v. Macalalad [A.C. 8158. February 24, 2010]

ATTY. ELMER C. SOLIDONcomplainant,
vs.
ATTY. RAMIL E. MACALALAD, respondent.

[A.C.8158. February 24, 2010]

FACTS:

Complainant, through a mutual acquaintance asked respondent to handle the judicial titling of a parcel of land owned by complainant’s relatives. Respondent accepted the task to be completed within a period of eight (8) months and received Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as initial payment; the remaining balance of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) was to be paid when complainant received the certificate of title to the property. Respondent has not filed any petition for registration over the property sought to be titled up to the filing of this case. In the Complaint, Position Papers and documentary evidence submitted, complainant claimed that he tried to contact respondent to follow-up on the status of the case six (6) months after he paid the initial legal fees.  He did this through phone calls and text messages to their known acquaintances and relatives, and, finally, through a letter sent by courier to the respondent.  However, he did not receive any return communication. Complainant sought the disbarment of respondent for violations of Rule 16.01, Rule 18.03, and Rule 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility involving negligence in handling a case. Complainant argued that he had no intention of reneging from his obligation, as he already had prepared the draft petition, and he failed to file it because it lacked the needed documentary requirements that his clients should have furnished him.   The Investigating Commissioner of IBP made a finding negligence on the part of the respondent. This was affirmed by the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline.

ISSUE:

Legal Ethics

(1)  Whether or not the respondent’s excuse is exculpatory.

RULING:

Legal Ethics

(1)  No. Respondent’s excuse is not exculpatory. He was imposed the (modified) penalty of suspension for six (6) months from the practice of law and was ordered to return to the complainant the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) with interest of twelve percent (12%) per annum from the date of promulgation of the Decision until the full amount is returned.

In administrative cases against lawyers, the quantum of proof required is preponderance of evidence which the complainant has the burden to discharge. We fully considered the evidence presented and we are fully satisfied that the complainant’s evidence, as outlined above, fully satisfies the required quantum of proof in proving respondent’s negligence. Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides for the rule on negligence and states:

Rule 18.03 – A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.

The Court has consistently held, in construing this Rule, that the mere failure of the lawyer to perform the obligations due to the client is considered per se a violation. (underscoring provided)

In addition to the above finding of negligence, [Court] also [found]  respondent guilty of violating Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which requires a lawyer to account for all the money received from the client.  In this case, respondent did not immediately account for and promptly return the money he received from complainant even after he failed to render any legal service within the contracted time of the engagement.

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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Case Digests, Legal Ethics

 

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Labao v. Flores [G.R. No. 187894. November 15, 2010]

FRANCISCO A. LABAOpetitioner,
vs.
LOLITA N. FLORES et al., respondents.

[G.R. No. 187894. November 15, 2010]

FACTS:

Petitioner is the proprietor and general manager of a licensed security-service contractor.  Respondents were security guards assigned to the National Power Corporation (NPC-Mindanao). Petitioner issued a memorandum requiring all security guards to submit their updated personal data files, security guard professional license, and other pertinent documents.  When respondents failed to comply with the petitioner’s directive, despite several notices to do so, the petitioner relieved them. Respondents filed individual complaints with Labor Arbiter (LA) for illegal dismissal and money claims, claiming they were constructively dismissed when they were not given new assignments for a period of over 6 months, despite their repeated requests. Petitioner countered that the respondents’ relief from duty was a valid exercise of its management prerogative. Furthermore, petitioner issued a notice directing the respondents to report to SMPSA’s main office for new assignments, but the latter failed or refused to comply without any valid reasons. The LA ruled in favor of the petitioner. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA decision. Counsel for the respondents appealed with the Court of Appeals (CA) outside the reglementary period, yet the ruling was in favor of respondents. The petitioner and SMPSA moved for reconsideration, arguing that the CA should have dismissed the petition outright for late filing, and that there was no compelling reason for the reversal of the LA and the NLRC’s factual findings. CA considered the respondents’ petition as timely filed and also opined that disregarding any procedural lapses best served substantial justice.

ISSUES:

Labor Law

(1)  Whether or not the ruling of the Labor Arbiter is proper in the sense that petitioner was validly exercising a management prerogative.

Remedial Law

(1)  Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in acting on the respondents’ petition despite of its late filing.

(2)  Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the LA and NLRC decisions.

Legal Ethics

(1)  Whether or not the negligence of counsel binds the respondents.

RULINGS:

Labor Law

(1)  Yes. The LA dismissed the consolidated complaints for lack of merit.  He held that the respondents’ relief from NPC-MRC duty was due to their failure to comply with SMSPA’s requirement for its employees to submit updated documents to meet NPC-MRC contract renewal requirements.  According to the LA, this was a legitimate exercise of NPC-MRC’s management prerogative, in light of the information it received that some security guards carried falsified documents.

Remedial Law

(1)  Yes. Late filing should not be allowed. Under Section 4 of Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, certiorari should be instituted within a period of 60 days from notice of the judgment, order, or resolution sought to be assailed. The 60-day period is inextendible to avoid any unreasonable delay that would violate the constitutional rights of parties to a speedy disposition of their case. Procedural rules do not exist for the convenience of the litigants; the rules were established primarily to provide order to, and enhance the efficiency of, our judicial system. While procedural rules are liberally construed, the provisions on reglementary periods are strictly applied, indispensable as they are to the prevention of needless delays, and are necessary to the orderly and speedy discharge of judicial business. The timeliness of filing a pleading is a jurisdictional caveat that even this Court cannot trifle with.

(2)  Yes. The NLRC’s resolution became final ten (10) days after counsel’s receipt, and the respondents’ failure to file the petition within the required (60)-day period rendered it impervious to any attack through a Rule 65 petition for certiorari.  Thus, no court can exercise jurisdiction to review the resolution. A decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land. All the issues between the parties are deemed resolved and laid to rest once a judgment becomes final and executory; execution of the decision proceeds as a matter of right as vested rights are acquired by the winning party.  Just as a losing party has the right to appeal within the prescribed period, the winning party has the correlative right to enjoy the finality of the decision on the case. After all, a denial of a petition for being time-barred is tantamount to a decision on the merits. Otherwise, there will be no end to litigation, and this will set to naught the main role of courts of justice to assist in the enforcement of the rule of law and the maintenance of peace and order by settling justiciable controversies with finality. Petition was granted and the decision of Labor Arbiter is reinstated.

Legal Ethics

(1)  Yes. The Court cannot sustain the respondents’ argument that they cannot be bound by their counsel’s negligence since this would set a dangerous precedent. It would enable every party-litigant to render inoperative any adverse order or decision of the courts or tribunals, through the simple expedient of alleging his/her counsel’s gross negligence. The general rule is that a client is bound by the acts, even mistakes, of his counsel in the realm of procedural technique. The exception to this rule is when the negligence of counsel is so gross, reckless and inexcusable that the client is deprived of his day in court. The failure of a party’s counsel to notify him on time of the adverse judgment, to enable him to appeal therefrom, is negligence that is not excusable.  [Court had] repeatedly held that notice sent to counsel of record is binding upon the client, and the neglect or failure of counsel to inform him of an adverse judgment resulting in the loss of his right to appeal is not a ground for setting aside a judgment valid and regular on its face.

 

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Position Paper: “Why I Teach Law” by Fr. R.C. Aquino

I take the negative position (choosing the Bar over graduate studies of law). However, this does not mean that I oppose to the position of Fr. Aquino nor subscribe to his critic as mentioned in the article. For me, it is just a matter of priority.

I have the chance to understand the two different views from my own personal experience. I have passion for both science and mathematics. When I was young, I wanted to be a scientist. When I came to understand the practicalities of life, I have to defer that dream of “pure” science for some “applied” profession in order to survive in the society. I chose to be an engineer. While I love every aspect of quantum physics and the theory of relativity, I had to settle for classical physics and engineering mechanics. I actually never had the opportunity to choose. If only I was given a bountiful life where I can depart from “matching type” of career selection (rather than multiple choice or fill in the blanks), I will choose to be a purist, and dedicate my life for academic excellence and service to mankind.

Between a Master or even a Doctor of Laws and a Member of the Bar, again, I would have to yield to the latter. Not that I undermine the kind of academic superiority of the former, but because of futility in losing an opportunity to live practically and compensate materially. Similarly, there is less than promising future for my family should I choose to be a scientist as compared to the versatility and marketability of an engineer. Unlike in first world countries, we do not have sufficient support for these kinds of people in research and advancement. Should I choose in the future to pursue graduate studies (of law), I will have to devote more time in studying (and spending) than earning for my kids. But if I had all the time and resources to raise my family well, I would have chosen to be an academician and discuss law the same way as Fr. Aquino did. Otherwise, it would practically be like living in isolation (from my own family). I can’t. It just ceased to be my priority.

Oftentimes I was deprived acceptance of my opinions regarding some matters of law from which I devoted time, effort and extensive research which I believe others, not even lawyers, have done on certain special laws. It is just not fair. Just because they are lawyers and I am not one does it automatically follow that I am not competent to discuss a law or any of its provision? I can only validly agree with Fr. Aquino’s last statement that the prefix of “Atty.” before his name is immaterial in teaching law. But in my case, who needs an additional title when I already have one – “Engr.”? For me, the title of “Atty.” would just be incidental. It will still be substance of a person over his title.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Legal Ethics

 

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Understanding Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

Criminal-Justice

One of the requirement before one can be admitted to practice of law is a satisfactory evidence of good moral character and not having been filed any charge against him involving moral turpitude in any Philippine Court (Section 2, Rule 138, Rules of Court). But what precisely, if not exactly is moral turpitude?

One of the Supreme Court jurisprudence that I recommend is the concurring opinion of Associate Justice Arturo Brion in the case of  Teves vs. COMELEC (G.R. No. 180363. April 28, 2009). There, Justice Brion discussed a brief (legislative) history of the term. Its roots can be traced from US immigration laws as early as 17th century. Since then, there was a gradual qualification of felony, offenses and crimes to be associated with “moral turpitude”, and fraudulent conduct was a controlling factor in associating it.

In the early editions of Black’s Law Dictionary, it defines moral turpitude as:

[An] act of baseness, vileness, or the depravity in private and social duties which man owes to his fellow man, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man. xxx  Act or behavior that gravely violates moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of community and is a morally culpable quality held to be present in some criminal offenses as distinguished from others. xxx The quality of a crime involving grave infringement of the moral sentiment of the community as distinguished from statutory mala prohibita.

In a case which involved a lawyer (In Re Basa, 1920) having committed abduction with consent, the Supreme Court (of the Philippines) through Justice Malcolm have spoken:

“Moral turpitude,” it has been said, “includes everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.” (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, cited by numerous courts.) Although no decision can be found which has decided the exact question, it cannot admit of doubt that crimes of this character involve moral turpitude. The inherent nature of the act is such that it is against good morals and the accepted rule of right conduct.

Since then, some of the identified crimes involving moral turpitude were identified as follows:

  1. Abduction with consent
  2. Seduction under promise of marriage
  3. Bigamy
  4. Concubinage
  5. Adultery
  6. Smuggling
  7. Rape
  8. Estafa through falsification of a document
  9. Attempted Bribery
  10. Profiteering
  11. Robbery
  12. Murder, whether consummated or attempted
  13. Estafa
  14. Theft
  15. Blackmail
  16. Illicit Sexual Relations with a Fellow Worker
  17. Violation of BP Blg. 22
  18. Falsification of Document
  19. Mutilation of public records
  20. Fabrication of evidence
  21. Making fraudulent proof of loss on insurance contract
  22. Offenses against pension laws
  23. Evasion of income tax
  24. Intriguing against Honor
  25. Violation of the Anti-Fencing Law
  26. Violation of Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (Drug-pushing)
  27. Criminal conspiracy to smuggle opium
  28. Perjury
  29. Forgery
  30. Libel
  31. Direct Bribery
  32. Frustrated Homicide
  33. Arson
  34. Barratry
  35. Dueling
  36. Embezzlement

 On the other hand, the following crimes were ruled out not to be involving moral turpitude:

  1. Minor transgressions of the law (i.e., conviction for speeding)
  2. Illegal recruitment
  3. Slight physical injuries
  4. Carrying of deadly weapon (Illegal possession of firearms)
  5. Indirect Contempt

There were three (3) approaches to determine if the any crime, not previously identified, may be considered as crime involving moral turpitude:

First approach: (objective approach) involvement of moral turpitude where an act is intrinsically immoral, regardless of whether it is punishable by law or not. The Court emphasized that moral turpitude goes beyond being merely mala prohibita; the act itself must be inherently immoral.  Thus, this approach requires that the committed act itself be examined, divorced from its characterization as a crime.

Second approach: look at the act committed through its elements as a crime.  The Court recognized that as a “general rule, all crimes of which fraud is an element are looked on as involving moral turpitude.”  This is the same conclusion that the U.S. Supreme Court, that crimes requiring fraud or intent to defraud always involve moral turpitude.

Third approach: (subjective approach) essentially takes the offender and his acts into account in light of the attendant circumstances of the crime: was he motivated by ill will indicating depravity?

For the three approaches, the defining question is: Is it contrary to the accepted rules of right and duty, justice, honesty and good morals? To be able to be cleared and ruled out of the definition of “moral turpitude”, all three must be answered in the negative.

BTW, in the cited case, the SC ruled:

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated May 11, 2007 and October 9, 2007 disqualifying petitioner Edgar Y. Teves from running for the position of Representative of the 3rd District of Negros Oriental, are REVERSED and SET ASIDE and a new one is entered declaring that the crime committed by petitioner (violation of Section 3(h) of R.A. 3019) did not involve moral turpitude.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Legal Ethics

 

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Bautista vs Gonzales [A.M. No. 1625. February 12, 1990]

[Per Curiam]

FACTS:

In a verified complaint filed by Angel L. Bautista, respondent Ramon A. Gonzales was charged with malpractice, deceit, gross misconduct and violation of lawyer’s oath. Required by this Court to answer the charges against him, respondent filed a motion for a bill of particulars asking this Court to order complainant to amend his complaint by making his charges more definite. In a resolution the Court granted respondent’s motion and required complainant to file an amended complaint. Complainant submitted an amended complaint for disbarment, alleging that respondent committed the following acts:

1. Accepting a case wherein he agreed with his clients, namely, Alfaro Fortunado, Nestor Fortunado and Editha Fortunado [hereinafter referred to as the Fortunados] to pay all expenses, including court fees, for a contingent fee of fifty percent (50%) of the value of the property in litigation.

x x x

4. Inducing complainant, who was his former client, to enter into a contract with him on August 30, 1971 for the development into a residential subdivision of the land involved in Civil Case No. Q-15143, covered by TCT No. T-1929, claiming that he acquired fifty percent (50%) interest thereof as attorney’s fees from the Fortunados, while knowing fully well that the said property was already sold at a public auction on June 30, 1971, by the Provincial Sheriff of Lanao del Norte and registered with the Register of Deeds of Iligan City;

x x x

Pertinent to No. 4 above, the contract, in No. 1 above, reads:

We the [Fortunados] agree on the 50% contingent fee, provided, you [respondent Ramon Gonzales] defray all expenses, for the suit, including court fees.

ISSUE:

Whether or not respondent committed serious misconduct involving a champertous contract.

HELD:

YES. Respondent was suspended from practice of law for six (6) months.

RATIO:

The Court finds that the agreement between the respondent and the Fortunados contrary to Canon 42 of the Canons of Professional Ethics which provides that a lawyer may not properly agree with a client to pay or bear the expenses of litigation. [See also Rule 16.04, Code of Professional Responsibility]. Although a lawyer may in good faith, advance the expenses of litigation, the same should be subject to reimbursement. The agreement between respondent and the Fortunados, however, does not provide for reimbursement to respondent of litigation expenses paid by him. An agreement whereby an attorney agrees to pay expenses of proceedings to enforce the client’s rights is champertous [citation omitted]. Such agreements are against public policy especially where, as in this case, the attorney has agreed to carry on the action at his own expense in consideration of some bargain to have part of the thing in dispute [citation omitted]. The execution of these contracts violates the fiduciary relationship between the lawyer and his client, for which the former must incur administrative sanctions.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Case Digests, Legal Ethics

 

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Nakpil vs Valdes [A.C. No. 2040. March 4, 1998]

Ponente: PUNO, J.

FACTS:

Jose Nakpil, husband of the complainant, became interested in purchasing a summer residence in Moran Street, Baguio City. For lack of funds, he requested respondent to purchase the Moran property for him. They agreed that respondent would keep the property in thrust for the Nakpils until the latter could buy it back. Pursuant to their agreement, respondent obtained two (2) loans from a bank which he used to purchase and renovate the property. Title was then issued in respondent’s name.

The ownership of the Moran property became an issue in the intestate proceedings when Jose Nakpil died. Respondent acted as the legal counsel and accountant of his widow. Respondent excluded the Moran property from the inventory of Jose’s estate and transferred his title to the Moran property to his company, the Caval Realty Corporation.

ISSUE:

Whether or not there was conflict of interest between the respondent Atty. Valdes and the complainant.

HELD:

YES. Respondent was suspended from practice of law for one (1) year.

RATIO:

[T]here is no question that the interests of the estate and that of its creditors are adverse to each other. Respondent’s accounting firm prepared the list of assets and liabilities of the estate and, at the same time, computed the claims of two creditors of the estate. There is clearly a conflict between the interest of the estate which stands as the debtor, and that of the two claimants who are creditors of the estate.

[R]espondent undoubtedly placed his law firm in a position where his loyalty to his client could be doubted. In the estate proceedings, the duty of respondent’s law firm was to contest the claims of these two creditors but which claims were prepared by respondent’s accounting firm. Even if the claims were valid and did not prejudice the estate, the set-up is still undesirable. The test to determine whether there is a conflict of interest in the representation is probability, not certainty of conflict. It was respondent’s duty to inhibit either of his firms from said proceedings to avoid the probability of conflict of interest.

Public confidence in law and lawyers may be eroded by the irresponsible and improper conduct of a member of the bar. Thus, a lawyer should determine his conduct by acting in a manner that would promote public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession. Members of the bar are expected to always live up to the standards embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility as the relationship between an attorney and his client is highly fiduciary in nature and demands utmost fidelity and good faith. In the case at bar, respondent exhibited less than full fidelity to his duty to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in his dealings and transactions with his clients.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Case Digests, Legal Ethics

 

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B.R. Sebastian Enterprises, Inc. vs C.A. [G.R. No. L-41862. February 7, 1992]

Ponente: DAVIDE, JR., J.

FACTS:

[P]etitioner, thru its then counsel of record, Baizas, Alberto and Associates, received notice to file Appellant’s Brief within 45 days from receipt thereof. Counsel for petitioner failed to file the Brief thus respondent Court issued a Resolution requiring said counsel to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for failure to file the Appellant’s Brief within the reglementary period. As the latter failed to comply with the above Resolution, respondent Court issued another Resolution this time dismissing petitioner’s appeal.

[P]etitioner, this time thru the BAIZAS LAW OFFICE, filed a motion for reconsideration of the resolution dismissing its appeal alleging that as a result of the death of Atty. Crispin Baizas, senior partner in the law firm of BAIZAS, ALBERTO & ASSOCIATES, the affairs of the said firm are still being settled between Atty. Jose Baizas (son of Crispin Baizas) and Atty. Ruby Alberto, the latter having established her own law office; furthermore, Atty. Rodolfo Espiritu, the lawyer who handled this case in the trial court and who is believed to have also attended to the preparation of the Appellant’s Brief but failed to submit it through oversight and inadvertence, had also left the firm.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the death of a partner extinguish the lawyer-client relationship with the law firm.

HELD:

NO. Petition was dismissed.

RATIO:

Petitioner’s counsel was the law firm of BAIZAS, ALBERTO & ASSOCIATES and not merely Atty. Crispin Baizas. Hence, the death of the latter did not extinguish the lawyer-client relationship between said firm and petitioner. With Baizas’ death, the responsibility of Atty. Alberto and his Associates to the petitioner as counsel remained until withdrawal by the former of their appearance in the manner provided by the Rules of Court. This is so because it was the law firm which handled the case for petitioner before both the trial and appellate courts. That Atty. Espiritu, an associate who was designated to handle the case, later left the office after the death of Atty. Baizas is of no moment since others in the firm could have replaced him. Upon receipt of the notice to file Brief, the law firm should have re-assigned the case to another associate or, it could have withdrawn as counsel in the manner provided by the Rules of Court so that the petitioner could contract the services of a new lawyer.

Moreover, petitioner itself was guilty of negligence when it failed to make inquiries from counsel regarding its case. As pointed out by respondents, the president of petitioner corporation claims to be the intimate friend of Atty. Crispin Baizas; hence, the death of the latter must have been known to the former. This fact should have made petitioner more vigilant with respect to the case at bar. Petitioner failed to act with prudence and diligence, thus, its plea that they were not accorded the right to procedural due process cannot elicit either approval or sympathy.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Case Digests, Legal Ethics

 

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