Facts: The complainant hired the respondent to represent her in an annulment of marriage case pending before the RTC. In order to file the annulment case, the complainant needed to submit National Statistics Office (NSO) copies of her children’s birth certificates – documents which could not be obtained from the NSO because of her husband’s failure to completely accomplish the certificates resulting in the non-registration of the births of their two children. The complainant gave the respondent money to process the registration and issuance of her children’s birth certificates with the NSO. The complainant also gave the respondent, through a friend, the amount of ₱10,000.00 as advance payment for the hiring of a psychologist and/or the conduct of psychologist tests for herself and her children. The complainant repeatedly asked the respondent for the NSO receipt, but the latter would always give an excuse not to turn the receipt over to her. This prompted the complainant to request confirmation of payment from the NSO. She found out that the respondent never paid nor filed applications for birth certificates. The complainant wrote a demand letter to the respondent for the surrender of the NSO receipt and the return of the ₱10,000.00. After the respondent refused to heed the complainant’s demands, the complainant filed the present administrative complaint against him before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (JBP-CBD). The respondent returned to the complainant the amount of seventeen thousand two hundred and eighty pesos (₱17,280.00), pursuant to a compromise agreement that the parties entered into in exchange for the dismissal of the criminal case for estafa filed by the complainant against the respondent. As part of the settlement, the respondent agreed to secure the birth certificates of the complainant’s children, an obligation which the respondent has not yet fulfilled up to the present. IBP found that the respondent had engaged in unlawful, dishonest, immoral, and deceitful conduct against his client’s interest in violation of Canon 1 of the CPR, and found the respondent guilty of misappropriating the funds entrusted to him by his client and of failing to account for and to return his client’s money upon demand, in violation of Canon 16 of the CPR.
Issue: whether respondent’s negligence violates his oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility and that his restitution of the complainants money cannot serve to mitigate his administrative?
Held: Yes, the court sustain the IBP Board of Governors’ findings of administrative liability, as well as its recommended penalty of one (1) year suspension from the practice of law. Clearly, these actions show the respondent’s negligence and lack of zeal in handling the complainant’s case, for which he should be made administratively liable. He violated not only Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the CPR, which prohibits a lawyer from engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct, but also Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the same Code, which provides that “a lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.” Moreover, the respondent failed to live up to his duties as a lawyer when he unlawfully withheld the complainant’s money. These omissions confirm the presumption that the respondent misappropriated the funds of his client, in violation of Canon 16 of the CPR that holds a lawyer in trust of all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession. The respondent, likewise, violated Rule 16.039 of Canon 16 (which provides that “a lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand”) when he failed to return the complainant’s money upon demand. We note that it was only after a year that the respondent, under threat of a criminal case filed against him, returned the complainant’s money. The respondent’s restitution cannot serve to mitigate his administrative liability as he returned the complainant’s money not voluntarily but for fear of possible criminal liability.
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