A.C. No. 6408 - August 31, 2004
ISIDRA BARRIENTOS, Complainant, vs. ATTY. ELERIZZA A. LIBIRAN-METEORO, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
Before this Court is a complaint for disbarment filed against Atty. Elerizza A. Libiran-Meteoro for deceit and non-payment of debts.
A letter-complaint dated May 21, 2001 was filed with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) under the names of Isidra Barrientos and Olivia C. Mercado, which was signed, however, by Isidra only. It states that: sometime in September of 2000, respondent issued several Equitable PCIBank Checks in favor of both Isidra and Olivia, amounting to
On July 13, 2001, in compliance with the Order2 of the IBP-Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), respondent filed her Answer alleging that: she issued several Equitable PCIBank checks amounting to
Attached to said Answer is an affidavit signed by Olivia C. Mercado which states as follows:
On August 9, 2001, the IBP-CBD issued a Notice of Hearing requiring both parties to appear before it on September 6, 2001. On said date, both parties appeared and agreed to settle their misunderstanding.7
On November 27, 2001, the parties agreed that the balance of
Respondent appeared in the next two hearings. However, this time, it was complainant who was unavailable. In the hearing of July 31, 2002, respondent was absent and was warned again that should she fail to appear in the next hearing, the Commissioner shall resolve the case. On said date, respondent did not appear despite due notice.9
On August 1, 2002, respondent filed with the Commission a motion for reconsideration of the July 31 order stating that: she got sick a few days before the scheduled hearing; she had already paid complainant the amount of
On April 30, 2003, the IBP-CBD issued an order granting respondents motion and setting aside the order dated July 31, 2002. It noted that while respondent claims that she already paid complainant
On October 7, 2003, only complainant appeared. The commission noted that respondent was duly notified and even personally received the notice for that days hearing. The case was thereafter submitted for resolution.13
On October 24, 2003, the Investigating IBP Commissioner Renato G. Cunanan submitted his report pertinent portions of which read as follows:
He then recommended that Atty. Elerizza A. Libiran-Meteoro be suspended from the practice of law for two years and meted a fine of twenty thousand pesos.15
On October 29, 2003, respondent filed another motion for reconsideration stating that: she was not able to receive the notice for the October 7 hearing because she was in Bicol attending to pressing personal problems; she only arrived from the province on October 25, 2003 and it was only then that she got hold of the Order dated October 7; from the very beginning, respondent never intended to ignore the Commissions hearings; as much as she wanted to pay complainant in full, the financial crisis which hit her family since 2001 has gravely affected her ability to pay; until that day, the expenses incurred by respondent due to the hospitalization of her father has not been paid in full by her family; the family home of respondent in Cabanatuan has already been foreclosed by the bank; respondents husband has been confined recently due to thyroid problems and respondent herself had sought medical help on several occasions due to her inability to conceive despite being married for more than five years; if not for said reasons, respondent could have already paid the complainant despite respondents knowledge that the amount complainant wanted to collect from her is merely the interest of her debt since she already returned most of the pieces of jewelry she purchased and she already paid for those that she was not able to return. Respondent prays that the resolution of the case be deferred and that she be given another 90 days from said date or until January 19, 2003 to settle whatever balance remains after proper accounting and presentation of receipts.16
On February 27, 2004, the Board of Governors of the IBP passed a resolution as follows:
We agree with the findings and recommendation of the IBP except as to the alleged matter of respondent offering a transfer certificate of title to complainants in exchange for the bounced checks that were in their possession.
We have held that deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct, for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with suspension from the practice of law.18 Lawyers are instruments for the administration of justice and vanguards of our legal system. They are expected to maintain not only legal proficiency but also a high standard of morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing so that the peoples faith and confidence in the judicial system is ensured.19 They must at all times faithfully perform their duties to society, to the bar, the courts and to their clients, which include prompt payment of financial obligations. They must conduct themselves in a manner that reflect the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.20 Canon 1 and Rule 1.01 explicitly states that:
In this case, respondent in her answer initially tried to deny having any obligation towards Isidra Barrientos. Upon appearing before the IBP-CBD, however, respondent eventually acknowledged her indebtedness to Isidra in the amount of
After respondent acknowledged her debt to complainant, she committed herself to the payment thereof. Yet she failed many times to fulfill said promise. She did not appear in most of the hearings and merely submitted a motion for reconsideration on August 1, 2002 after the IBP-CBD Commissioner had already submitted the case for resolution. She claimed that she got sick days before the hearing and asked for sixty days to finally settle her account. Again, she failed to fulfill her promise and did not appear before the Commission in the succeeding hearings despite due notice. After the case was submitted anew for resolution on October 6, 2003, respondent filed another motion for reconsideration, this time saying that she was in the province attending to personal matters. Again she asked for another ninety days to settle her entire debt. This repeated failure on her part to fulfill her promise puts in question her integrity and moral character. Her failure to attend most of the hearings called by the commission and her belated pleas for reconsideration also manifest her propensity to delay the resolution of the case and to make full use of the mechanisms of administrative proceedings to her benefit.
She also could not deny that she issued several checks without sufficient funds, which prompted Isidra and Olivia to file complaints before the prosecutors office in Cabanatuan City. Her only excuse is that she was able to replace said checks and make arrangements for the payment of her debt, which led to the dismissal of the criminal complaints against her.
We have held that the issuance of checks which were later dishonored for having been drawn against a closed account indicates a lawyers unfitness for the trust and confidence reposed on her. It shows a lack of personal honesty and good moral character as to render her unworthy of public confidence.22 The issuance of a series of worthless checks also shows the remorseless attitude of respondent, unmindful to the deleterious effects of such act to the public interest and public order.23 It also manifests a lawyers low regard to her commitment to the oath she has taken when she joined her peers, seriously and irreparably tarnishing the image of the profession she should hold in high esteem.24
Mere issuance of worthless checks by a lawyer, regardless of whether or not the same were issued in his professional capacity to a client, calls for appropriate disciplinary measures. As we explained in Co vs. Bernardino:25
She also claims that her father was hospitalized in March 2002 and that she and her husband also had to seek medical help which greatly affected her ability to pay. She however did not present any proof to substantiate such claims. She also did not appear personally before the complainant and the commission, in spite of the many opportunities given her, to make arrangements for the payment of her debt considering the circumstances that befell her family. Instead, she waited until the case was submitted for resolution to allege such facts, without presenting any proof therefor.
We cannot uphold the IBP in finding that since respondent has not offered any explanation for, nor has she controverted the complainants charge that she tried to negotiate with them a transfer certificate of title that had been entrusted to her by a client, she should be held liable therefor. Basic is the principle that if the complainant, upon whom rests the burden of proving her cause of action, fails to show in a satisfactory manner the facts upon which she bases her claim, the respondent is under no obligation to prove her exception or defense.27 Simply put, the burden is not on the respondent to prove her innocence but on the complainants to prove her guilt. In this case, complainants submitted a photocopy of a TCT in the name of Victoria Villamar together with their letter-complaint, which according to complainants was the title respondent tried, through her sister-in-law, to negotiate with them in exchange for the bounced checks in their possession.28 No other evidence or sworn statement was submitted in support of such allegation. Respondent in her answer, meanwhile, denied having any knowledge regarding such matter and no further discussion was made on the matter, not even in the hearings before the commission.29 For this reason, we hold that respondent should not be held liable for the alleged negotiation of a TCT to complainants for lack of sufficient evidence, but only for the non-payment of debts and the issuance of worthless checks which were sufficiently proved and which respondent herself admitted.
We reiterate that membership in the legal profession is a privilege and demands a high degree of good moral character, not only as a condition precedent to admission, but also as a continuing requirement for the practice of law.30
Accordingly, administrative sanction is warranted by respondents misconduct. The IBP Board of Governors recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months. In Lao vs. Medel,31 which also involved non-payment of debt and issuance of worthless checks, the Court held that suspension from the practice of law for one year was appropriate. Unlike in the Lao case however, respondent is this case paid a portion of her debt, as evidenced by receipts amounting to
WHEREFORE, Atty. Elerizza A. Libiran-Meteoro is found guilty of gross misconduct and is hereby SUSPENDED for six months from the practice of law, effective upon her receipt of this Decision, and is ordered to pay complainant Isidra Barrientos the amount of
Let copies of this Resolution be entered in the record of respondent and served on the IBP as well as the court administrator who shall circulate herein Resolution to all courts for their information and guidance.
Callejo, Sr., Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
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