Belleza v Macasa A.C. No. 7815, July 23, 2009

Fact: Complainant went to see respondent to avail of respondent’s legal services in connection with the case of her son who was arrested by policemen of Bacolod City earlier that day for alleged violation of Republic Act (RA) 9165. Respondent agreed to handle the case for ₱30,000. The following day, complainant made a partial payment to respondent thru their mutual friend. She gave him an additional ₱10,000 and ₱5,000 as payment for the balance. Both payments were also made thru Chua. Respondent received ₱18,000 from complainant for the purpose of posting a bond to secure the provisional liberty of her (complainant’s) son. When complainant went to the court the next day, she found out that respondent did not remit the amount to the court. Complainant demanded the return of the ₱18,000 from respondent on several occasions but respondent ignored her. Moreover, respondent failed to act on the case of complainant’s son and complainant was forced to avail of the services of the Public Attorney’s Office for her son’s defense. Thereafter, complainant filed a verified complaint for disbarment against respondent in the Negros Occidental chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. IBP Negros Occidental chapter transmitted the complaint to the IBP’s Commission on Bar Discipline. The CBD required respondent to submit his answer within 15 days from receipt thereof. Respondent, in an urgent motion for extension of time to file an answer for three times but failed to send an answer. In its report and recommendation the CBD ruled that respondent failed to rebut the charges against him. He never answered the complaint despite several chances to do so. The CBD found respondent guilty of violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Issue: Whether the respondent violated his Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility and must be barred to practice law.

Held: Yes, the court affirmed the CBD’s finding of guilt as affirmed by the IBP Board of Governors but we modify the IBP’s recommendation as to the liability of respondent. The Respondent disrespected the legal processes. Respondent was given more than enough opportunity to answer the charges against him. Yet, he showed indifference to the orders of the CBD for him to answer and refute the accusations of professional misconduct against him. Respondent grossly neglected the cause of his client. Respondent undertook to defend the criminal case against complainant’s son, but neglected them. A lawyer’s negligence in the discharge of his obligations arising from the relationship of counsel and client may cause delay in the administration of justice and prejudice the rights of a litigant, particularly his client. Thus, from the perspective of the ethics of the legal profession, a lawyer’s lethargy in carrying out his duties to his client is both unprofessional and unethical. Respondent failed to return his Client’s money. When a lawyer collects or receives money from his client for a particular purpose (such as for filing fees, registration fees, transportation and office expenses), he should promptly account to the client how the money was spent. If he does not use the money for its intended purpose, he must immediately return it to the client. His failure either to render an accounting or to return the money (if the intended purpose of the money does not materialize) constitutes a blatant disregard of Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Respondent was undeserving of the trust reposed in him. Instead of using the money for the bond of the complainant’s son, he pocketed it. He failed to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in his dealings with his client.34 He failed to live up to his fiduciary duties. By keeping the money for himself despite his undertaking that he would facilitate the release of complainant’s son, respondent showed lack of moral principles. His transgression showed him to be a swindler, a deceitful person and a shame to the legal profession. Therefore considering all the violation and infraction of the respondent, the court DISBARRED him from the practice of law.

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