A.C. No. 5763. December 3, 2002
GABRIEL T. INGLES, complainant, vs. ATTY. VICTOR DELA SERNA, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
In a complaint, dated 25 July 2001, filed before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Atty. Gabriel Ingles, charged Atty. Victor dela Serna with violation, specifically of Canon 8, Rule 8.01, of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The complaint stemmed from a memorandum submitted by Atty. dela Serna in Civil Case No. 5781, entitled Cattleya Land, Inc., vs. Carmelita Fudot Singpit and Atty. Narciso dela Serna, before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, of Bohol. Respondent lawyer, who represented the defendant, stated in his memorandum thusly:
Recourse Available to Cattleya
When it turned out that Tecson had already sold Lot 2-A to Fudot TCT -17402 in 1986, Cattleya can blame only its lawyers, Atty. Federico Cabilao and Atty. Gabriel Ingles. Apparently, these lawyers were themselves fooling Cattleya so that they can get their commission and overprice immediately. x x x (Underscoring supplied).
Bad Faith on the Part of Cattleya and Its Lawyers Cabilao and Ingles
x x x The reason is obvious, Cattleya through its agents and lawyers, Atty. Cabilao and Atty. Ingles, are in cohorts with Tecson and Pizarras.[1cräläwvirtualibräry
Complainant averred that the statements were false and malicious and argued that they were uncalled for in a memorandum that should contain only a summation of the facts and the laws applicable to the case. In passing, complainant also denied that he had overpriced the property in order to obtain a commission.
In his answer, Atty. dela Serna maintained that the proper forum to consider the complaint should have been the Regional Trial Court that tried the case, and not the IBP, where complainant could have asked the court to cite respondent for contempt.
In a transmittal letter, dated 05 August 2001, Atty. Victor C. Fernandez, Director for Bar Discipline, submitted to the Court 1) a Notice of the Resolution of the Board of Governors and 2) the Records of the Case consisting of 51 pages. The resolution of the Board of Governors (Resolution No. XV-2002-232), adopting the recommendation of Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro, read:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution/Decision as Annex `A; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering that respondent having conducted himself with utter discourtesy by using uncalled for statements in his Defendants Memorandum without evident proofs of said accusations and using offensive and abusive language therein respondent violated Rule 8.01 of Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, Respondent is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months.[2cräläwvirtualibräry
When Atty. dela Serna learned of the resolution, he promptly filed an Appeal before this Court claiming a denial of substantive and procedural due process, no formal investigation having been conducted by the IBP before it issued the resolution recommending his six-month suspension from the practice of law.
A review of the records would indeed show that no formal investigation was conducted by the IBP.
In Cottam vs. Atty. Laysa (326 SCRA 614) and Baldomar vs. Atty. Paras (348 SCRA 212), the Court outlined the procedure for disciplinary action against a member of the Bar. The Court elucidated:
Complaints against lawyers for misconduct are normally addressed to the Court. If, at the outset, the Court finds a complaint to be clearly wanting in merit, it outrightly dismisses the case. If, however, the Court deems it necessary that further inquiry should be made, such as when the matter could not be resolved by merely evaluating the pleadings submitted, a referral is made to the IBP for a formal investigation of the case during which the parties are accorded an opportunity to be heard. An ex parte investigation may only be conducted when respondent fails to appear despite reasonable notice. Hereunder are some of the pertinent provisions of Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court on this matter; viz.:
`SEC. 3. Duties of the National Grievance Investigator. The National Grievance Investigators shall investigate all complaints against members of the Integrated Bar referred to them by the IBP Board of Governors.
`x x x
`SEC. 5. Service or dismissal. If the complaint appears to be meritorious, the Investigator shall direct that a copy thereof be served upon the respondent, requiring him to answer the same within fifteen (15) days from the date of service. If the complaint does not merit action, or if the answer shows to the satisfaction of the Investigator that the complaint is not meritorious, the same may be dismissed by the Board of Governors upon his recommendation. A copy of the resolution of dismissal shall be furnished to the complainant and the Supreme Court which may review the case motu proprio or upon timely appeal of the complainant filed within 15 days from notice of the dismissal of the complaint.
`No investigation shall be interrupted or terminated by reason of the desistance, settlement, compromise, restitution, withdrawal of the charges, or failure of the complainant to prosecute the same.
`x x x
`SEC. 8. Investigation. Upon joinder of issues or upon failure of the respondent to answer, the Investigator shall, with deliberate speed, proceed with the investigation of the case. He shall have the power to issue subpoenas and administer oaths. The respondent shall be given full opportunity to defend himself, to present witnesses on his behalf and be heard by himself and counsel. However, if upon reasonable notice, the respondent fails to appear, the investigation shall proceed ex parte.
`The Investigator shall terminate the investigation within three (3) months form the date of its commencement, unless extended for good cause by the Board of Governors upon prior application.
`Willful failure to refusal to obey a subpoena or any other lawful order issued by the Investigator shall be dealt with as for indirect contempt of Court. The corresponding charge shall be filed by the Investigator before the IBP Board of Governors which shall require the alleged contemnor to show cause within ten (10) days from notice. The IBP Board of Governors may thereafter conduct hearings, if necessary, in accordance with the procedure set forth in this Rule for hearings before the Investigator. Such hearing shall as far as practicable be terminated within fifteen (15) days from its commencement. Thereafter, the IBP Board of Governors shall within a like period of fifteen (15) days issue a resolution setting forth its findings and recommendations, which shall forthwith be transmitted to the Supreme Court for final action and if warranted, the imposition of penalty.
The procedures outlined by the Rules are meant to ensure that the innocents are spared from wrongful condemnation and that only the guilty are meted their just due. Obviously, these requirements cannot be taken lightly.
Subject to such highly exceptional cases as it might deem warranted, the Court here reiterates the indispensability for a formal investigation of complaints against members of the Bar particularly, such as in this instance, where the IBP would recommend the serious penalty of suspension from the practice of law.
WHEREFORE, the instant administrative case is REMANDED to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for further proceedings in accordance with the foregoing opinion. The IBP is likewise directed to act on this referral with dispatch.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
Azcuna, J., on leave.
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