Orcino v. Gaspar A.C. No. 3773, September 24, 1997

Facts: Complainant engaged the services of respondent to prosecute a criminal case she intended to file against several suspects in the slaying of her husband. In consideration thereof, complainant bound herself to pay respondent legal fees. Complainant was also to pay P500.00 per appearance of respondent before the court and fiscal. Forthwith, respondent entered into his duties. He interviewed witnesses and gathered evidence to build a case against the suspects. He drew up the necessary sworn statements and dutifully attended the preliminary investigation. The case was thereafter filed with the RTC. As private prosecutor, respondent religiously attended the bail hearings for the accused although these hearings were postponed on motion of the accused’s counsel. Respondent however failed to attend the hearing scheduled in August 1991. It was at this nearing that the court, over complainant’s objections, granted bail to all the accused. Complainant became belligerent and started accusing him of jeopardizing the case by his absence. Complainant asked for the records of the case saying that she could refer them to another lawyer. Stung by her words, respondent gave her the records. Complainant never returned the records nor did she see respondent. Respondent filed before the trial court a “Motion to Withdraw as Counsel.” The motion did not bear the consent of complainant so the court issued an order directing respondent to secure complainant’s consent to the motion “and his appearance as private prosecutor shall continue until he has secured this consent.” Complainant refused to sign her conformity to respondent’s withdrawal. Meanwhile, the hearings in the criminal case continued. Respondent did not appear at the hearings nor did he contact complainant. Complainant was thus compelled to engage the services of another lawyer. Hence, the letter-complaint.

Issue: Whether the Respondent Lawyer  has the liberty to withdraw his services for the complainant anytime?

Held: No, unlike the client-complainant which has the absolute right to terminate the attorney-client relation at any time with or without cause. The right of an attorney to withdraw or terminate the relation other than for sufficient cause is, however, considerably restricted. Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes to conduct an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its conclusion. He is not at liberty to abandon it without reasonable cause. A lawyer’s right to withdraw from a case before its final adjudication arises only from the client’s written consent or from a good cause. Section 26 of Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court. A lawyer may retire at any time from any action special proceeding with the written consent of his client filed in court and copy thereof served upon the adverse party. Should the client refuse to give his consent, the lawyer must file an application with the court. The court, on notice to the client and adverse party, shall determine whether he ought to be allowed to retire. The application for withdrawal must be based on a good cause. In the instant case, complainant did not give her written consent to respondent’s withdrawal, however, respondent did not file an application with the court for it to determine whether he should be allowed to withdraw. Granting that respondent’s motion without complainant’s consent was an application for withdrawal with the court, we find that this reason is insufficient to justify his withdrawal from the case. Respondent’s withdrawal was made on the ground that “there no longer exist[ed] the . . . confidence” between them and that there had been “serious differences between them relating to the manner of private prosecution” which is not in accordance with Rule 22.01 of Canon 22 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

A lawyer may withdraw his services from his client only in the following instances: (a) when a client insists upon an unjust or immoral conduct of his case; (b) when the client insists that the lawyer pursue conduct violative of the Code of Professional Responsibility; (c) when the client has two or more retained lawyers and the lawyers could not get along to the detriment of the case; (d) when the mental or physical condition of the lawyer makes him incapable of handling the case effectively; (e) when the client deliberately fails to pay the attorney’s fees agreed upon; (f) when the lawyer is elected or appointed to public office; (g) other similar cases.

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