Aniñon v. Sabitsana A.C. No. 5098, April 11, 2012

Facts: In her complaint, Josefina M. Aniñon (complainant) related that she previously engaged the legal services of Atty. Sabitsana in the preparation and execution in her favor of a Deed of Sale over a parcel of land owned by her late common-law husband Brigido Caneja, Jr.. Respondent allegedly violated her confidence when he subsequently filed a civil case against her for the annulment of the Deed of Sale in behalf of Zenaida L. Cañete, the legal wife of Brigido Caneja, Jr. The complainant accused Respondent of using the confidential information he obtained from her in filing the civil case.

Issue: Whether Respondent is guilty of misconduct for representing conflicting interests.

Held: Yes, the court agree with the findings and recommendations of the IBP Commissioner and the IBP Board of Governors. The relationship between a lawyer and his/her client should ideally be imbued with the highest level of trust and confidence. This is the standard of confidentiality that must prevail to promote a full disclosure of the client’s most confidential information to his/her lawyer for an unhampered exchange of information between them. Needless to state, a client can only entrust confidential information to his/her lawyer based on an expectation from the lawyer of utmost secrecy and discretion; the lawyer, for his part, is duty-bound to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all dealings and transactions with the client. Part of the lawyer’s duty in this regard is to avoid representing conflicting interests, a matter covered by Rule 15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility  which a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts. “The proscription against representation of conflicting interests applies to a situation where the opposing parties are present clients in the same action or in an unrelated action.” The prohibition also applies even if the “lawyer would not be called upon to contend for one client that which the lawyer has to oppose for the other client, or that there would be no occasion to use the confidential information acquired from one to the disadvantage of the other as the two actions are wholly unrelated.” To be held accountable under this rule, it is “enough that the opposing parties in one case, one of whom would lose the suit, are present clients and the nature or conditions of the lawyer’s respective retainers with each of them would affect the performance of the duty of undivided fidelity to both clients.” Jurisprudence has provided three tests in determining whether a violation of the above rule is present in a given case.  One test is whether a lawyer is duty-bound to fight for an issue or claim in behalf of one client and, at the same time, to oppose that claim for the other client. Thus, if a lawyer’s argument for one client has to be opposed by that same lawyer in arguing for the other client, there is a violation of the rule. Another test of inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation would prevent the full discharge of the lawyer’s duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to the client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double-dealing in the performance of that duty. Still another test is whether the lawyer would be called upon in the new relation to use against a former client any confidential information acquired through their connection or previous employment. On the basis of the attendant facts of the case, we find substantial evidence to support Respondent’s violation of the above rule, as established by the following circumstances on record:

One, his legal services were initially engaged by the complainant to protect her interest over a certain property. The records show that upon the legal advice of Respondent, the Deed of Sale over the property was prepared and executed in the complainant’s favor.

Two Respondent met with Zenaida Cañete to discuss the latter’s legal interest over the property subject of the Deed of Sale. At that point, Respondent already had knowledge that Zenaida Cañete’s interest clashed with the complainant’s interests.

Three, despite the knowledge of the clashing interests between his two clients, Respondent accepted the engagement from Zenaida Cañete.

Four, Respondent’s actual knowledge of the conflicting interests between his two clients was demonstrated by his own actions: first, he filed a case against the complainant in behalf of Zenaida Cañete; second, he impleaded the complainant as the defendant in the case; and third, the case he filed was for the annulment of the Deed of Sale that he had previously prepared and executed for the complainant.

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