Nonato v Fudolin (2015) A.C. No. 10138, June 16, 2015

Fact: The complainant alleged that his father, the late Restituto Nonato (Restituto), was the duly registered owner of a property that became the subject of ejectment proceedings filed by Restituto against Anselmo Tubongbanua ( Anselmo), before the MTC. The complainant alleged that although his father Restituto paid the respondent his acceptance fees, no formal retainer agreement was executed. The respondent also did not issue any receipts for the acceptance fees paid. The complainant asserted that during the pendency of the ejectment proceedings before the MTC, the respondent failed to fully inform his father Restituto of the status and developments in the case. Restituto could not contact the respondent despite his continued efforts. The respondent also failed to furnish Restituto copies of the pleadings, motions and other documents filed with the court. Thus, Restituto and the complainant were completely left in the dark regarding the status of their case. After an exchange of initial pleadings in the ejectment proceedings, the MTC ordered the parties to submit their respective position papers. Since neither party complied with the court’s directive, the MTC dismissed the complaint. The respondent filed a motion for reconsideration from the order of dismissal. He justified his failure to file the position paper by arguing that he misplaced the case records, adding that he was also burdened with numerous other cases. The MTC denied the motion. Because of the patent negligence, the complainant informed the respondent that his failure to file the position paper could be a ground for his disbarment. Furthermore, the complainant, without the respondent’s intervention, entered into an oral extrajudicial compromise with the daughter of defendant Anselmo. In 2007, the respondent wrote the complainant and apologized for his repeated failure to communicate with him. He reasoned out that he failed to file the position paper due to his poor health. He also claimed that he had suffered a stroke and had become partially blind, which caused the delay in the preparation of the pleadings in the ejectment case. The Investigating Commissioner recommended the respondent’s suspension for one (1) month from the practice of law.

Issue: Whether the respondent failure to execute his duty due to his health condition is an inexcusable violation of his Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Held: Yes, A lawyer is bound to protect his client’s interests to the best of his ability and with utmost diligence. He should serve his client in a conscientious, diligent, and efficient manner; and provide the quality of service at least equal to that which he, himself, would expect from a competent lawyer in a similar situation. By consenting to be his client’s counsel, a lawyer impliedly represents that he will exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill demanded by his profession, and his client may reasonably expect him to perform his obligations diligently. The failure to meet these standards warrants the imposition of disciplinary action. In this case, the record clearly shows that the respondent has been remiss in the performance of his duties as Restituto’s counsel. His inaction on the matters entrusted to his care is plainly obvious. He failed to file his position paper despite notice from the MTC requiring him to do so. His omission greatly prejudiced his client as the Court in fact dismissed the ejectment suit. Because a lawyer-client relationship is one of trust and confidence, there is a need for the client to be adequately and fully informed about the developments in his case. A client should never be left groping in the dark; to allow this situation is to destroy the trust, faith, and confidence reposed in the retained lawyer and in the legal profession in general. The court find the respondent’s excuse – that he had an undetected stroke and was suffering from other illnesses – unsatisfactory and merely an afterthought. Even assuming that he was then suffering from numerous health problems (as evidenced by the medical certificates he attached), his medical condition cannot serve as a valid reason to excuse the omission to file the necessary court pleadings. The respondent could have requested an extension of time to file the required position paper, or at the very least, informed his client of his medical condition; all these, the respondent failed to do. with all the premises considered, the court suspends the respondent from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility.

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