A. C. No. 5811. January 20, 2003
MARITESS GARCIA, complainant, vs. ATTY. ILUMINADO M. MANUEL, respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
DAVIDE, JR., C.J.:
For our resolution is the administrative complaint for disbarment filed by complainant Maritess Garcia against respondent Atty. Iluminado M. Manuel for gross misconduct for ineffectively handling her case and failing to return to her the money she gave him.
The facts, as culled from the records, are uncomplicated:
Sometime in February 1999, Maritess Garcia, divorced from husband
Oscar Fauni, approached respondent for legal advice concerning child support
and her condominium unit in San Juan, Metro Manila, which her erstwhile husband
refused to vacate.
Respondent agreed to
handle her case at a fee of
On 17 February 1999, a retainer agreement was entered by complainant
with respondent, calling for the payment of (1)
On 4 March 1999, complainant gave respondent
In the interim, complainant made several follow-ups with respondent inquiring particularly as to whether the ejectment case had already been filed. Through a telephone conversation with respondent on 7 April 1999, complainant found out that the ejectment case had not been filed yet by respondent. Agitated by the information, complainant immediately went to respondent's residence. An altercation between respondent and complainant took place. After serious exchange of words, respondent returned to complainant all of her documents. No amount of money was, however, returned by respondent to complainant despite the latters demand for its return.
Aggrieved by respondents actuations, complainant filed on 30 June 1999 with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Commission on Bar Discipline, the instant complaint for gross misconduct against respondent.[5cräläwvirtualibräry
In his Answer dated 24 September 1999, respondent denied having
committed any malicious, dishonest or anomalous acts against complainant.
Respondent asserted that he did not file the
ejectment case because he had not yet received the registry return card
evidencing the receipt by Oscar Fauni of the demand letter he sent on 8 March
It could not be said that he
In his Report and Recommendation dated 7 May 2001, Investigating
Commissioner Atty. Caesar R. Dulay concluded that respondent was less than
honest to his client and displayed lack of candor and fidelity to her
He cited respondents act of (1)
making it appear to complainant that as early a 17 February 1999, he already
In its Resolution No. XV-2002-239 of 29 June 2002, the Board of Governors of the IBP approved and adopted Atty. Dulay's Report and Recommendation. It, however, increased the recommended penalty of respondent from one month to six months of suspension from the practice of law.
We agree with the findings and conclusions of Commissioner Dulay, as approved and adopted by the Board of Governors of the IBP.
A lawyer may be disciplined for any conduct, in his professional or private capacity, that renders him unfit to continue to be an officer of the court. Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility commands all lawyers to uphold at all times the dignity and integrity of the legal profession. Specifically, Rule 1.01 thereof provides:
Rule 1.01 -- A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest and immoral or deceitful conduct.
There is no need to stretch ones imagination to arrive at an
inevitable conclusion that respondent committed dishonesty and abused the
confidence reposed in him by the complainant.
Respondent Manuel fully knew that the jurisdictional requirement of
demand to vacate had to be complied with before an ejectment case could be
yet he asked complainant to raise the filing fee of
Finally, if indeed respondent was in good faith in dealing with complainant, he should have informed or advised the complainant of the status of her case or, at the least, responded to her inquiries. Canon 18, Rule 18.04 provides:
Rule 18.04 A lawyer shall keep the client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within reasonable time to the clients request for information.
The relationship of lawyer-client being one of confidence, there is ever present the need for the client to be adequately and fully informed of the developments of the case and should not be left in the dark as to the mode and manner in which his interests are being defended. It is only thus that the trust and faith in the counsel may remain unimpaired.[11cräläwvirtualibräry
Respondent also failed to comply with the norms embodied in Canon 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, to wit:
Canon 16. A lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession.
Rule 16.01 A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client.
In the instant case, respondent received the amount of
Moreover, a lawyer who obtains possession of the funds and properties
of his client in the course of his professional employment shall deliver the
same to his client (a) when they become due or (b) upon demand.[13 In
the instant case, respondent failed to account and return the
We find untenable respondents claim that since complainant was
already in arrears with his fees, it was proper for him to apply the filing
fees to his attorneys fees.
been held that an attorneys lien is not an excuse for a lawyers non-rendition
And while a lawyer is allowed to apply so much of the clients funds as may be
necessary to satisfy his lawful fees and disbursements, the lawyer is however
under the obligation to promptly thereafter notify his client.[15
Nothing on record supports respondents claim that complainant was adequately
notified as to the application of the
Besides, the receipt dated 4 March 1999 states that:
In the event that whatever is left of the
A close reading of the receipt reveals that while it authorizes
respondent to apply whatever would be left of the
We find unwarranted respondents claim that complainant impliedly
terminated his services when she asked for the return of all her
Complainant was upset by
respondent's non-filing of the ejectment case.
She honestly believed that respondent would already file the ejectment case
after giving him the
Respondents actions erode the public perception of the legal profession. They constitute gross misconduct for which he may be suspended, following Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, which provides:
Sec. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor.- - A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience appearing as attorney for a party without authority to do so.
Complainant asks that respondent be disbarred. However, we find that suspension from the practice of law is sufficient to discipline respondent. The supreme penalty of disbarment is meted out only in clear cases of misconduct that seriously affect the standing and character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar.[17 While we will not hesitate to remove an erring attorney from the esteemed brotherhood of lawyers, where the evidence calls for it, we will also not disbar him where a lesser penalty will suffice to accomplish the desired end.[18 In this case, we find suspension to be sufficient sanction against respondent. Suspension, we may add, is not primarily intended as punishment, but as a means to protect the public and the legal profession.[19cräläwvirtualibräry
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Iluminado M. Manuel is found GUILTY of gross misconduct and is SUSPENDEDfrom the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, effective immediately, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely. Further, respondent is ordered to render, within thirty (30) days from notice of this Resolution, an accounting of all monies received by him from complainant.
Let notice of this Resolution be spread in respondents record as an attorney in this Court, and notice thereof be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts concerned.
Vitug, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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