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EN BANC

A.C. No. 5054 - May 29, 2002

SOLEDAD NUÑEZ, Represented by ANANIAS B. CO, Attorney-in-Fact for Complainant, Petitioner, vs. ATTY. ROMULO RICAFORT, Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

PER CURIAM:

This is an administrative complaint filed on 21 April 1999 by Soledad Nuñez, a septuagenarian represented by her attorney-in-fact Ananias B. Co, Jr., seeking the disbarment of respondent Atty. Romulo Ricafort on the ground of grave misconduct.

From the documents submitted by the complainant, it appears that sometime in October 1982 she authorized respondent to sell her two parcels of land located in Legazpi City for P40,000. She agreed to give respondent 10 percent of the price as commission. Respondent succeeded in selling the lots, but despite complainant's repeated demands, he did not turn over to her the proceeds of the sale. This forced complainant to file against respondent and his wife an action for a sum of money before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-93-15052.

For his failure to file an answer, respondent was declared in default and complainant was required to present ex-parte her evidence. On 29 September 1993, the court rendered its decision (Annex "C" of the Complaint) ordering respondent herein to pay complainant the sum of P16,000 as principal obligation, with interest thereon at the legal rate from the date of the commencement of the action, i.e., 8 March 1993, until it is fully paid, and to pay the costs of suit.

Respondent and his wife appealed from the decision to the Court of Appeals. However, the appeal was dismissed for failure to pay the required docket fee within the reglementary period despite notice.

On 23 October 1995 complainant filed in Civil Case No. Q-93-15052 a motion for the issuance of an alias writ of execution, which the court granted on 30 October 1995. The next day, the alias writ of execution was issued (Annex "B" of Complaint). It appears that only a partial satisfaction of the P16,000 judgment was made, leaving P13,800 thereof unsatisfied. In payment for the latter, respondent issued four postdated checks drawn against his account in China Banking Corporation, Legazpi City.

Upon presentment, however, the checks were dishonored because the account against which they were drawn was closed (Annexes "D" and "E" of Complaint). Demands for respondent to make good the checks fell on deaf ears, thus forcing complainant to file four criminal complaints for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City (Annexes "F," "G," "H" and "I" of the Complaint).

In the "Joint Affidavit" of respondent and his wife filed with the Office of the Prosecutor, Quezon City, respondent admitted having drawn and issued said four postdated checks in favor of complainant. Allegedly believing in good faith that said checks had already been encashed by complainant, he subsequently closed his checking account in China Banking Corporation, Legazpi City, from which said four checks were drawn. He was not notified that the checks were dishonored. Had he been notified, he would have made the necessary arrangements with the bank.

We required respondent to comment on the complaint. But he never did despite our favorable action on his three motions for extension of time to file the comment. His failure to do so compelled complainant to file on 10 March 2000 a motion to cite respondent in contempt on the ground that his strategy to file piecemeal motions for extension of time to submit the comment "smacks of a delaying tactic scheme that is unworthy of a member of the bar and a law dean."

In our resolution of 14 June 2000, we noted the motion for contempt; considered respondent to have waived the filing of a comment; and referred this case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippine (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation or decision within ninety days from notice of the resolution.

In her Report and Recommendation dated 12 September 2000, Investigating Commissioner Atty. Milagros V. San Juan concluded that respondent had no intention to "honor" the money judgment against him in Civil Case No. Q-93-15052 as can be gleaned from his (1) issuance of postdated checks; (2) closing of the account against which said checks were drawn; and (3) continued failure to make good the amounts of the checks. She then recommends that respondent be declared "guilty of misconduct in his dealings with complainant" and be suspended from the practice of law for at least one year and pay the amount of the checks issued to the complainant.

In its Resolution No. XV-2001-244 of 27 October 2001, the Board of Governors of the IBP approved and adopted Atty. San Juan's Report and Recommendation.

We concur with the findings of the Investigating Commissioner, as adopted and approved by the Board of Governors of the IBP, that respondent Atty. Romulo Ricafort is guilty of grave misconduct in his dealings with complainant. Indeed, the record shows respondent's grave misconduct and notorious dishonesty.

There is no need to stretch one's imagination to arrive at an inevitable conclusion that respondent gravely abused the confidence that complainant reposed in him and committed dishonesty when he did not turn over the proceeds of the sale of her property. Worse, with palpable bad faith, he compelled the complainant to go to court for the recovery of the proceeds of the sale and, in the process, to spend money, time and energy therefor. Then, despite his deliberate failure to answer the complaint resulting in his having been declared in default, he appealed from the judgment to the Court of Appeals. Again, bad faith attended such a step because he did not pay the docket fee despite notice. Needless to state, respondent wanted to prolong the travails and agony of the complainant and to enjoy the fruits of what rightfully belongs to the latter. Unsatisfied with what he had already unjustly and unlawfully done to complainant, respondent issued checks to satisfy the alias writ of execution. But, remaining unrepentant of what he had done and in continued pursuit of a clearly malicious plan not to pay complainant of what had been validly and lawfully adjudged by the court against him, respondent closed the account against which the checks were drawn. There was deceit in this. Respondent never had the intention of paying his obligation as proved by the fact that despite the criminal cases for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, he did not pay the obligation.

All the foregoing constituted grave and gross misconduct in blatant violation of Rule 1:01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides:

A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest and immoral or deceitful conduct.

Respondent's claim of good faith in closing his account because he thought complainant has already encashed all checks is preposterous. The account was closed on or before 26 February 1996. He knew that there were still other checks due on 29 February 1996 and 15 March 1996 which could not be encashed before their maturity dates.

By violating Rule 1:01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, respondent diminished public confidence in the law and the lawyers (Busiños v. Ricafort, 283 SCRA 407 [1997]; Ducat v. Villalon, 337 SCRA 622 [2000]). Instead of promoting such confidence and respect, he miserably failed to live up to the standards of the legal profession (Gonato v. Adaza, 328 SCRA 694 [2000]; Ducat v. Villalon, supra).

Respondent's act of issuing bad checks in satisfaction of the alias writ of execution for money judgment rendered by the trial court was a clear attempt to defeat the ends of justice. His failure to make good the checks despite demands and the criminal cases for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 showed his continued defiance of judicial processes, which he, as an officer of the court, was under continuing duty to uphold.

To further demonstrate his very low regard for the courts and judicial processes, respondent even had the temerity of making a mockery of our generosity to him. We granted his three motions for extension of time to file his comment on the complaint in this case. Yet, not only did he fail to file the comment, he as well did not even bother to explain such failure notwithstanding our resolution declaring him as having waived the filing of the comment. To the Highest Court of the land, respondent openly showed a high degree of irresponsibility amounting to willful disobedience to its lawful orders (Thermochem Incorporated v. Naval, 344 SCRA 76, 82 [2000]; Sipin-Nabor v. Atty. Baterina, Adm. Case No. 4073, 28 June 2001).

Respondent then knowingly and willfully violated Rules 12.04 and 12:03 of Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which respectively provide that lawyers should avoid any action that would unduly delay a case, impede the execution of a judgment or misuse court processes; and that lawyers, after obtaining extensions of time to file pleadings, memoranda or briefs, should not let the period lapse without submitting the same or offering an explanation for their failure to do so.

The penalty of suspension "for at least one (1) year" imposed by the Board of Governors of the IBP is both vague and inadequate. A suspension may either be indefinite or for a specific duration. Besides, under the circumstances of this case a suspension for a year is plainly very light and inadequate. For his deliberate violation or defiance of Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 and Rules 12:03 and 12:04 of Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, coupled with his palpable bad faith and dishonesty in his dealings with the complainant, respondent deserves a graver penalty. That graver penalty is indefinite suspension from the practice of law.

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, respondent Atty. Romulo Ricafort is hereby INDEFINITELY SUSPENDED from the practice of law, and is directed to pay complainant Soledad Nuñez the amount of P13,800 within ten (10) days from notice of this resolution.

This resolution shall take effect immediately. Copies thereof shall be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to respondent's personal record; the Office of the President; the Department of Justice; the Court of Appeals; the Sandiganbayan; and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. The Court Administrator shall also furnish all lower courts with copies of this Resolution.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.




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lower courts with copies of this Resolution.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.




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