Kupers v. Hontanosas A.C. No. 5704, May 8, 2009

Facts:  Complainant claimed that as counsel for Hans and Vivian Busse, respondent had prepared a memorandum of agreement and a contract of lease between the spouses Busse and Hochstrasser, a Swiss national. Under said agreement, Hochstrasser would lease Vivian Busse’s property in Alcoy, Cebu for fifty (50) years, renewable for another fifty (50) years. Complainant added that respondent had acted despite conflict of interest on his part since the Spouses Busse and Hochstrasser were both his clients. Respondent prepared a similar agreement and lease contract between the spouses Busse and Karl Emberger, a Swiss national, over another parcel of land in Alcoy, Cebu. This time the lease contract was for a period of forty nine (49) years renewable for another forty nine (49) years. All four (4) documents were notarized by respondent. It was also averred that respondent drafted two deeds of sale over the leased properties of Spouses Busse to Naomie Melchior, a Filipina, and Karl Novak, a German National. The Commissioner found that respondent had prepared and notarized contracts that violated Presidential Decree No. 471 (P.D. No. 471) since leases of private lands by aliens cannot exceed twenty five (25) years, renewable for another twenty five (25) years. Nonetheless, complainant failed to prove the other charges he had hurled against respondent as the former was not privy to the agreements between respondent and the latter’s clients. Moreover, complainant failed to present any concrete proof of the other charges. The commissioner recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for two (2) months. Upon review, the IBP Board of Governors disregarded the recommendation of the commissioner and dismissed the complaint. The Board of Governors ratiocinated that suspension was not warranted since respondent did not really perform an illegal act. The act was not illegal per se since the lease agreement was likely made to reflect the agreement among the parties without considering the legality of the situation. While admittedly respondent may be guilty of ignorance of the law or plain negligence, the Board dismissed the complaint out of compassion.

Issue: Whether the Lawyer’s committed a violation of this oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility?

Held: Yes, the court stressed that much is demanded from those who engage in the practice of law because they have a duty not only to their clients, but also to the court, to the bar, and to the public. The lawyer’s diligence and dedication to his work and profession ideally should not only promote the interests of his clients. A lawyer has the duty to attain the ends of justice by maintaining respect for the legal profession. The administrative cases against lawyers are sui generes and as such the complainant in the case need not be the aggrieved party. Thus even if complainant is not a party to the contracts, the charge of drafting and notarizing contracts in contravention of law holds weight. A plain reading of these contracts clearly shows that they violate the law limiting lease of private lands to aliens for a period of twenty five (25) years renewable for another twenty five (25) years. In preparing and notarizing the illegal lease contracts, respondent violated the Attorney’s Oath and several canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility. One of the foremost sworn duties of an attorney-at-law is to “obey the laws of the Philippines.” This duty is enshrined in the Attorney’s Oath16 and in Canon 1, which provides that “(a) lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.” Rule 1.02 under Canon 1 states: “A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at decreasing confidence in the legal systems.”

The other canons of professional responsibility which respondent transgressed are the following:

Canon 15 – a lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transactions with his clients.

Rule 15.07- a lawyer shall impress upon his client compliance with the laws and the principles of hairness.

Canon 17 – a lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client and he shall be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him.

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