Overgaard v. Valdez A.C. No. 7902, March 31, 2009

Facts:  The complainant, engaged the services of respondent as his legal counsel in two cases filed by him and two cases filed against him. Despite the receipt of the full amount of legal fees, the respondent refused to perform any of his obligations under their contract for legal services, ignored the complainant’s request for a report of the status of the cases entrusted to his care, and rejected the complainant’s demands for the return of the money paid to him. Complainant Overgaard filed a complaint for disbarment against Valdez before the IBP. During the investigation, respondent Valdez did not participate despite due notice. He was declared in default for failure to submit an answer and attend the mandatory conference. He did not submit a position paper or attend the hearing. The Court held that respondent Valdez committed multiple violations of the canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility and hereby DISBARRED and his name is ordered STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys.

Issue: whether respondent’s abandonment of his client constitutes a violation of his oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility?

Held: Yes, the court find that respondent’s disbarment should be upheld. From the facts of the case, and based on his own admissions, it is evident that he has committed multiple violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility. In abruptly abandoning his law office without advising his client and without making sure that the cases he was handling for his client were properly attended to during his absence, and without making arrangements whereby he would receive important mail, the respondent is clearly guilty of gross negligence. A lawyer cannot simply disappear and abandon his clients and then rely on the convenient excuse that there were threats to his safety. Even assuming that there were serious threats to his person, this did not give him the permission to desert his client and leave the cases entrusted to his care hanging. He should have at least exercised reasonable and ordinary care and diligence by taking steps to ensure that the cases he was handling were attended to and that his client’s interest was safeguarded. If it was not possible for him to handle the cases entrusted to his care, he should have informed the complainant of his predicament and asked that he be allowed to withdraw from the case to enable the client to engage the services of another counsel who could properly represent him. Deplorably, the respondent just disappeared, deserted his client and forgot about the cases entrusted to his care, to the complainant’s damage and prejudice. The respondent’s disbarment is not anchored on his failure to do anything in relation the cases entrusted to his care, but on his abandonment of his client. He will not be absolved from liability on the basis alone of these inconsequential acts which he claims to have accomplished because the glaring fact remains that he has failed to perform his essential obligations to his client, to the courts and to society. As the complainant’s lawyer, the respondent is expected to serve his client with competence and diligence.30 This includes not merely reviewing the cases entrusted to his care and giving the complainant sound legal advice, but also properly representing his client in court, attending scheduled hearings, preparing and filing required pleadings, prosecuting the cases entrusted to his care with reasonable dispatch, and urging their termination without waiting for his client or the court to prod him to do so. He should not idly sit by and leave the rights of his client in a state of uncertainty.

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