June 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 5580 - SAN JOSE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION INC. v. ATTY. ROBERTO B. ROMANILLOS
[A.C. NO. 5580 : June 15, 2005]
SAN JOSE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION INC., as represented by REBECCA V. LABRADOR, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROBERTO B. ROMANILLOS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition1 for disbarment against Atty. Roberto B. Romanillos for allegedly representing conflicting interests and for using the title "Judge" despite having been found guilty of grave and serious misconduct in Zarate v. Judge Romanillos.2
The facts are as follows:
In 1985, respondent represented San Jose Homeowners Association, Inc. (SJHAI) before the Human Settlements Regulation Commission (HSRC) in a case3 against Durano and Corp., Inc. (DCI) for violation of the Subdivision and Condominium Buyer's Protection Act (P.D. No. 957). SJHAI alleged that Lot No. 224 was designated as a school site in the subdivision plan that DCI submitted to the Bureau of Lands in 1961 but was sold by DCI to spouses Ramon and Beatriz Durano without disclosing it as a school site.
While still the counsel for SJHAI, respondent represented Myrna and Antonio Montealegre in requesting for SJHAI's conformity to construct a school building on Lot No. 224 to be purchased from Durano.
When the request was denied, respondent applied for clearance before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) in behalf of Montealegre. Petitioner's Board of Directors terminated respondent's services as counsel and engaged another lawyer to represent the association.
Respondent also acted as counsel for Lydia Durano-Rodriguez who substituted for DCI in Civil Case No. 18014 entitled "San Jose Homeowners, Inc. v. Durano and Corp., Inc." filed before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 134. Thus, SJHAI filed a disbarment case against respondent for representing conflicting interests, docketed as Administrative Case No. 4783.
In her Report4 dated August 3, 1998, Investigating Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro of the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) made the following findings:
'Respondent failed to observe candor and fairness in dealing with his clients, knowing fully well that the Montealegre case was adverse to the Complainant wherein he had previously been not only an active board member but its corporate secretary having access to all its documents confidential or otherwise and its counsel in handling the implementation of the writ of execution against its developer and owner, Durano and Co. Inc.
Moreso, when Respondent acted as counsel for the substituted defendant Durano and Co. Inc., Lydia Durano-Rodriguez; the conflict of interest between the latter and the Complainant became so revealing and yet Respondent proceeded to represent the former.
For his defense of good faith in doing so; inasmuch as the same wasn't controverted by the Complainant which was his first offense; Respondent must be given the benefit of the doubt to rectify his error subject to the condition that should he commit the same in the future; severe penalty will be imposed upon him.5
The Investigating Commissioner recommended dismissal of the complaint with the admonition that respondent should observe extra care and diligence in the practice of his profession to uphold its dignity and integrity beyond reproach.
The IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, which we noted in a resolution dated March 8, 1999.
Thus, a second disbarment case was filed against respondent for violation of the March 8, 1999 Resolution in A.C. No. 4783 and for his alleged deceitful conduct in using the title "Judge" although he was found guilty of grave and serious misconduct.
Respondent used the title "Judge" in his office letterhead, correspondences and billboards which was erected in several areas within the San Jose Subdivision sometime in October 2001.
In his Comment and Explanation,8 respondent claimed that he continued to represent Lydia Durano-Rodriguez against petitioner despite the March 8, 1999 Resolution because it was still pending when the second disbarment case was filed. He maintained that the instant petition is a rehash of the first disbarment case from which he was exonerated. Concerning the title "Judge", respondent stated that since the filing of the instant petition he had ceased to attach the title to his name.
On July 7, 2003, the matter was referred to the IBP for investigation, report and recommendation.9
Investigating Commissioner Leland R. Villadolid, Jr. reported that respondent did not violate the admonition because it referred to future cases only and not to cases subject of A.C. No. 4783. Besides, petitioner never questioned the propriety of respondent's continued representation of Lydia Durano-Rodriguez on appeal until the case was terminated.
The Investigating Commissioner, however, believed that respondent was deceitful when he used the title "Judge", thus creating a false impression that he was an incumbent.
The Investigating Commissioner recommended thus:
In view of the foregoing considerations, this Commissioner respectfully recommends the following penalty range to be deliberated upon by the Board for imposition on Respondent: minimum penalty of reprimand to a maximum penalty of four (4) months suspension. It is further recommended that in addition to the penalty to be imposed, a stern warning be given to Respondent in that should he violate his undertaking/promise not to handle any case in the future where the Complainant would be the adverse party and/or should he again use the title of "Judge" which would create an impression that he is still connected to the judiciary, a more severe penalty shall be imposed on him by the Commission.
The IBP Board of Governors approved with modification the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, thus:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A", and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering Respondent's violation of Rule 1.01 and Rule 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, Atty. Roberto Romanillos is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months with a WARNING that should he violate his undertaking/promise a more severe penalty shall be imposed against him.
Undoubtedly, respondent represented the inconsistent interests of SJHAI, DCI as substituted by Lydia Durano-Rodriguez and the Montealegres. Respondent was admonished yet he continued to represent Durano-Rodriguez against SJHAI.
It is inconsequential that petitioner never questioned the propriety of respondent's continued representation of Lydia Durano-Rodriguez. The lack of opposition does not mean tacit consent. As long as the lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two (2) or more opposing clients, he is guilty of violating his oath. Rule 15.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility specifically mandates that a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure. Incidentally, it is also misleading for respondent to insist that he was exonerated in A.C. No. 4783.
We agree with the IBP that respondent's continued use of the title "Judge" violated Rules 1.01 and 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in deceitful conduct and from using any misleading statement or claim regarding qualifications or legal services. The quasi-judicial notice he posted in the billboards referring to himself as a judge is deceiving. It was a clear attempt to mislead the public into believing that the order was issued in his capacity as a judge when he was dishonorably stripped of the privilege.
Respondent did not honorably retire from the judiciary. He resigned from being a judge during the pendency of Zarate v. Judge Romanillos, where he was eventually found guilty of grave and serious misconduct and would have been dismissed from the service had he not resigned.
In that case, respondent was found guilty of illegal solicitation and receipt of P10,000.00 from a party litigant. We ruled thus:
Considering the foregoing, respondent Judge Roberto B. Romanillos is hereby found guilty of grave and serious misconduct affecting his integrity and honesty. He deserves the supreme penalty of dismissal. However, respondent, in an obvious attempt to escape punishment for his misdeeds, tendered his resignation during the pendency of this case. 'Consequently, we are now precluded from dismissing respondent from the service. Nevertheless, the ruling in People v. Valenzuela (135 SCRA 712 ), wherein the respondent judge likewise resigned before the case could be resolved, finds application in this case. Therein it was held that the rule that the resignation or retirement of a respondent judge in an administrative case renders the case moot and academic, is not a hard and fast rule.'
ACCORDINGLY, in view of our aforestated finding that respondent Judge Romanillos is guilty of grave and serious misconduct which would have warranted his dismissal from the service had he not resigned during the pendency of this case, and it appearing that respondent has yet to apply for his retirement benefits and other privileges if any; the Court, consistent with the penalties imposed in Valenzuela (supra.), hereby orders the FORFEITURE of all leave and retirement benefits and privileges to which herein respondent Judge Romanillos may be entitled WITH PREJUDICE to reinstatement and/or reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned or controlled agencies or corporations.
The penalty imposed upon him in said case included forfeiture of all leave and retirement benefits and privileges to which he may be entitled with prejudice to reinstatement and/or reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned or controlled agencies or corporations. Certainly, the use of the title 'Judge' is one of such privileges.
We have previously declared that the use of titles such as "Justice" is reserved to incumbent and retired members of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan and may not be used by any other official of the Republic, including those given the rank of "Justice".11 By analogy, the title "Judge" should be reserved only to judges, incumbent and retired, and not to those who were dishonorably discharged from the service. As correctly pointed out by the Investigating Commissioner, the right to retain and use said title applies only to the aforementioned members of the bench and no other, and certainly not to those who were removed or dismissed from the judiciary, such as respondent.
Membership in the legal profession is a special privilege burdened with conditions.12 It is bestowed upon individuals who are not only learned in law, but also known to possess good moral character.13 Lawyers should act and comport themselves with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach, in order to promote the public's faith in the legal profession.14
To say that lawyers must at all times uphold and respect the law is to state the obvious, but such statement can never be overemphasized. Considering that, "of all classes and professions, [lawyers are] most sacredly bound to uphold the law," it is imperative that they live by the law. Accordingly, lawyers who violate their oath and engage in deceitful conduct have no place in the legal profession.15
Disbarment is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction. We are mindful that the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution, for only the most imperative reasons,16 and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and as a member of the bar.17
This is not respondent's first infraction as an officer of the court and a member of the legal profession. He was stripped of his retirement benefits and other privileges in Zarate v. Judge Romanillos.18 In A.C. No. 4783, he got off lightly with just an admonition. Considering his previous infractions, respondent should have adhered to the tenets of his profession with extra fervor and vigilance. He did not. On the contrary, he manifested undue disrespect to our mandate and exhibited a propensity to violate the laws. He is thus unfit to discharge the duties of his office and unworthy of the trust and confidence reposed on him as an officer of the court. His disbarment is consequently warranted.
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court 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 admission to practice, or for a wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or wilfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Roberto B. Romanillos is DISBARRED and his name is ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in respondent's record as a member of the Bar, and notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-14.
2 312 Phil. 679 (1995).
3 HSRC Case No. REM-021082-0822 (NHA-80-309).
4 Rollo, pp. 15-20.
5 Id. at 19-20.
6 "SJHAI v. HLURB, et al.," docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 67844.
7 "SJHAI v. HLURB, et al.," docketed as G.R. No. 153980.
8 Rollo, pp. 31-33.
9 Id. at 46.
10 Supra, note 2, pp. 692-693.
11 JBC No. 001: Re JBC Emoluments, July 20, 1989.
12 Lao v. Medel, A.C. No. 5916, 1 July 2003, 405 SCRA 227, 235; Eustaquio v. Rimorin, A.C. No. 5081, 24 March 2003, 399 SCRA 422, 429; Sebastian v. Atty. Calis, 372 Phil. 673, 681; Marcelo v. Javier, Sr., Adm. Case No. 3248, 18 September 1992, 214 SCRA 1, 16.
13 Ernesto L. Pineda, Legal and Judicial Ethics (1999), p. 22.
16 De Guzman v. Tadeo, 68 Phil. 554, 558 (1939).
17 Montano v. Integrated Bar of the Philippines, A.C. No. 4215, 21 May 2001, 358 SCRA 1, 10.
18 In National Bureau of Investigation v. Reyes, A.M. No. MTJ-97-1120, 21 February 2000, 326 SCRA 109, respondent judge therein was found guilty of bribery. He was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service and further disbarred from the practice of law.