A.C. No. 6061 - October 3, 2003
DR. RAUL C. SANCHEZ, Complainant, vs. ATTY. SALUSTINO SOMOSO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
In his complaint-affidavit filed before the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Dr. Raul C. Sanchez, a member of the medical staff of Sta. Lucia General Hospital, stated that he was the attending physician of respondent Atty. Salustino Somoso during the latters confinement at the hospital from 31 March to 09 April 1998. When respondent was discharged on 09 April 1998, he urged complainant that, since it was a public holiday and banks were closed that day for business, the latter be good enough to accept a check in payment of the hospital bills due complainant totalling P44,347.00. Although apprehensive at first, complainant was later persuaded, however, by respondents plea of his being a lawyer who can be trusted as such. Complainant thus accepted two personal checks from respondent; to wit:
When deposited, the checks were dishonored. Complainant immediately met with and informed respondent about it. Respondent promised to redeem the dishonored checks in cash; he never did.
Ultimately, complainant filed a criminal complaint for estafa against respondent with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City. On 15 August 2001, the City Prosecutor issued a resolution holding that the necessary Informations for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (BP 22) should be filed against respondent. Pursuant to the resolution, two Informations for violation of BP 22 were filed against respondent before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City. A warrant for his arrest was issued but, somehow, respondent was able to evade arrest.
Complainant in his administrative complaint submits that respondent is a disgrace to the law profession and unfit to be a member of the bar, and that he should be disbarred and his name stricken off from the Roll of Attorneys.
Pursuant to an order, dated 31 July 2002, of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD), respondent was furnished with a copy of the complaint and ordered to submit his answer within fifteen (15) days from his receipt of a copy of the complaint. Despite the receipt of the IBP-CBD order in his two given addresses, respondent failed to file his answer to the complaint. Respondent was finally declared to be in default.
In its report and recommendation, the IBP-CBD found sufficient evidence on record to substantiate the charges made by complainant against respondent and recommended that the latter be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months. In Resolution No. XV-2003-177, dated 26 April 2003, the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines adopted and approved the report and recommendation of the IBP-CBD.
The Court accepts the findings and recommendation of the IBP. Clearly, respondents action of issuing his personal checks in payment for his medical bills, knowing fully well that his account with the drawee bank has by then already been closed, constitutes a gross violation of the basic norm of integrity required of all members of the legal profession. The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically mandates that:
"Canon 1. A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.
"Rule 1.01. A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct."
"Canon 7. A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the Integrated Bar.
"Rule 7.03. A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession."
The canons emphasize the high standard of honesty and fairness expected of a lawyer not only in the practice of the legal profession but also in his personal dealings as well. A lawyer must conduct himself with great propriety, and his behavior should be beyond reproach anywhere and at all times.2cräläwvirtualibräry
When respondent paid, with a personal check from a bank account which he knew had already been closed, the person who attended to his medical needs and persisted in refusing to settle his due obligation despite demand, respondent exhibited an extremely low regard to his commitment to the oath he has taken when he joined his peers, seriously and irreparably tarnishing the image of the profession he should, instead, hold in high esteem. His conduct deserve nothing less than a severe disciplinary sanction.
The law profession is a noble calling, and the privilege to practice it is bestowed only upon individuals who are competent and fit to exercise it.3cräläwvirtualibräry
WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Atty. Salustino Somoso GUILTY of misconduct, and he is ordered suspended from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months effective from receipt of this decision, with a warning that any further infraction by him shall be dealt with most severely.
Let copies of this Decision be furnished to all courts, as well as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and to the Office of the Bar Confidant.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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