Mercado v. Vitriolo A.C. No. 5108, May 26, 2005

Facts: Complainant’s husband filed Civil Case for annulment of their marriage with the RTC which had been dismissed by the trial court, and became final and executory. Respondent filed his Notice of Substitution of Counsel for the complainant. Respondent filed a criminal action against complainant for violation of Articles 171 and 172 (falsification of public document) of the Revised Penal Code. Respondent alleged that complainant made false entries in the Certificates of Live Birth of her children, Angelica and Katelyn Anne. More specifically, complainant allegedly indicated in said Certificates of Live Birth that she is married to a certain Ferdinand Fernandez, and that their marriage was solemnized on April 11, 1979, when in truth, she is legally married to Ruben G. Mercado and their marriage took place on April 11, 1978. Complainant alleged that said criminal complaint for falsification of public document disclosed confidential facts and information relating to the civil case for annulment, then handled by respondent as her counsel. This prompted complainant Mercado to bring this action against respondent. She claims that, in filing the criminal case for falsification, respondent is guilty of breaching their privileged and confidential lawyer-client relationship, and should be disbarred.

Issue: Whether the Respondent violated the complainant’s attorney-client privilege by filing a criminal case against the latter.

Held: No, the court held that the evidence on record fails to substantiate complainant’s allegations. The court note that complainant did not even specify the alleged communication in confidence disclosed by respondent. All her claims were couched in general terms and lacked specificity. She contends that respondent violated the rule on privileged communication when he instituted a criminal action against her for falsification of public documents because the criminal complaint disclosed facts relating to the civil case for annulment then handled by respondent. She did not, however, spell out these facts which will determine the merit of her complaint.

The court cited the factors essential to establish the existence of the privilege, viz:

(1) Where legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal advisor, (8) except the protection be waived.

In fine, the factors are as follows:

(1) There exists an attorney-client relationship, or a prospective attorney-client relationship, and it is by reason of this relationship that the client made the communication.

(2) The client made the communication in confidence.

(3) The legal advice must be sought from the attorney in his professional capacity.



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