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A.C. No. 2591 - LETICIA ADRIMISIN v. ATTY. ROLANDO S. JAVIER

A.C. No. 2591 - LETICIA ADRIMISIN v. ATTY. ROLANDO S. JAVIER

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.C. NO. 2591 : September 8, 2006]

LETICIA ADRIMISIN, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROLANDO S. JAVIER, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

On 12 September 1983, Leticia Adrimisin ("complainant") filed a complaint-affidavit1 with the Ministry of Justice seeking the disbarment of Atty. Rolando S. Javier ("respondent") for deceit and misrepresentation.

The Facts

Complainant alleges that on 12 July 1983, she was introduced by her cousin, Pablo Adrimisin, to respondent. She needed the help of a lawyer in having her son-in-law, Alfredo Monterde ("Monterde"), who was charged with the crime of qualified theft, released from the Caloocan City Jail. Complainant claims that respondent advised her to file a bail bond. Complainant informed respondent that her only money was P500. Complainant contends that respondent received the money, issued a receipt2 and promised that Monterde would be released from jail the following day.

Complainant also alleges that respondent failed to keep his promise in having Monterde released. Complainant went to respondent's office several times but it seemed that respondent was avoiding her. Monterde was later released upon settlement of the case with his employer. Complainant claims that she demanded for the return of the P500 but respondent failed to return this amount.

Respondent did not file any comment or answer. He only appeared in the investigative hearings conducted by the Office of the Solicitor General ("OSG"). Respondent, in his testimony, claims he was not hired by complainant as legal counsel. Respondent alleges complainant only asked his help to secure a bail bond.3 Respondent admits he received P500 for the bail bond and called up Carlos Alberto ("Alberto"), an insurance agent.4 Respondent claims he gave the P500 to Alberto. However, the amount was not sufficient to pay for the bond.5 Respondent denies that he promised to have Monterde released immediately.6 Respondent claims he advised complainant to get back her money directly from Alberto.7

Alberto, the insurance agent, was presented during the hearing. He testified that on 20 July 1983, respondent came to him to secure a bail bond for qualified theft.8 Alberto showed a copy of the personal bail bond dated 20 July 1983, issued by Philippine Phoenix Surety & Insurance, Inc. ("Philippine Phoenix Surety") with a premium of P940 and costs of documentary stamps, notarial fees and clearances at P279 for a total of P1,219.9 Alberto claimed he issued a genuine bond but it was not filed in court because complainant failed to pay the balance.10 He also testified that Pablo Adrimisin asked for the refund of the P500 but the amount could not be refunded due to expenses already incurred and forfeiture of the remainder in favor of Alberto's office.11

The bail bond which was marked as Exhibit "1" contained a stamped "Limitation of Liability" clause. The clause states "Authorized limit of the bond shall not exceed P20,000 and it is not valid for theft and robbery cases."12 The portion "Not valid for theft and robbery cases" was deleted with a marking pen but this cancellation was not signed or initialed. Alberto was asked why the cancellation was unsigned. Alberto replied that he had no knowledge on who made the stamp or the cancellation.13 When asked if it is the policy of Philippine Phoenix Surety not to post personal bail bond with respect to theft and robbery cases, Alberto answered in the affirmative.14

Alberto also clarified that he is not connected with Philippine Phoenix Surety but he is an employee of the House of Bonds, which is the general agent of the former.15

Mr. Alfredo Brigoli ("Brigoli"), General Manager of the House of Bonds, was also presented as one of respondent's witnesses. Brigoli explained that he gives Alberto 5 sets of pre-signed bail bond forms.16 However, in theft, robbery and drug cases, Alberto is required to seek his approval before the bond is issued.

Brigoli testified that it was Alberto's daughter who called him up for approval to issue a bond for qualified theft.17 He informed Alberto's daughter to bring the original bond and its duplicate copies to his office in Intramuros for his signature, but the same was not done.18 Due to the lack of his signature, Brigoli claimed that the bond has not been approved.19 Brigoli also testified that since the bond was not forwarded to his office, the same was not recorded and the payment was not remitted.

The OSG's Report and Recommendation

The OSG's Investigating Solicitor Antonio G. Castro heard the case and submitted a Report and Recommendation ("Report"). The OSG recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for not less than one year. The Report reads:

The charge of deceit and misrepresentation against respondent has been sufficiently established. Respondent himself admits that he received from complainant the sum of P500.00 for the bail bond of complainant's son-in-law Alfredo Monterde; that he failed to secure Monterde's release from jail; and that he did not return the sum of P500.00 to complainant (pp. 9-20, tsn, March 14, 1985).

x x x

Respondent's defense that he actually secured a bail bond for Monterde is a mere afterthought. Firstly, complainant confided to him that she had no more money except P500.00. He would not, therefore, secure a bail bond with higher premium than P500.00.

Secondly, while he declared that the records of Monterde's case in the Regional Trial Court in Caloocan City, Branch XXV, sala of Judge Oscar Herrera showed that the recommended bail was P8,000.00 (pp. 8-9, tsn, March 14, 1985), the personal bail bond, marked as Exhibit "1", which was allegedly prepared, was for P9,400.00 (Exh. "1", p. 7, Folder of Exhs.).

Thirdly, respondent's witness, Alfredo Brigoli, the general manager of the AAF House of Bonds, admitted that Exhibit "1" was not finally approved. On cross-examination, he declared:

"Q Have you signed that as finally approved?cralaw library

A No, sir. When they called up asking for my signature on the deleted portion of the bond, Mr. Alberto never came to my office.

Q In other words that bond has not been finally approved.

A Not finally approved because there is no signature yet."

(p. 20, tsn, Sept. 30, 1985).

As held by this Honorable Court in Royong v. Oblena, 7 SCRA 859, 868-869 (1963), "The respondent's misconduct, although unrelated to his office, may constitute sufficient grounds for disbarment." And in Quingwa v. Puno, 19 SCRA 439, 445 (1967), it also held that, "Indeed, it is important that members of this ancient and learned profession of law must conform themselves in accordance with the highest standards of morality."

Specifically, for deceit and misrepresentation, respondent may be suspended or disbarred (In re Paraiso, 41 Phil. 24, 25 [1920]).20

The Court's Ruling

The Court finds respondent liable for violation of Canon 16 and Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility ("Code"). The Code mandates every lawyer to hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession.21 Consequently, a lawyer should account for the money received from a client.22 The Code also enjoins a lawyer not to neglect a legal matter entrusted to him,23 and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.

Respondent himself admitted the receipt of P500 from complainant as payment for the bail bond as shown in his testimony and in Exhibit "A". By his receipt of the amount, respondent agreed to take up complainant's cause and owed fidelity to complainant and her cause, even if complainant never paid any fee. Lawyering is not a business. It is a profession in which duty to public service, not money, is the primary consideration.24

Respondent claims that on 12 July 1983, he called up Alberto for the issuance of the bail bond but it took 8 days before the bail bond was prepared. In failing to immediately secure the bail bond, respondent clearly neglected to exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill required by the circumstances.

There were also irregularities in the personal bail bond. Firstly, it was issued on 20 July 1983 but notarized sometime in 1984 as seen in the Notarial Certificate. The Court therefore agrees with OSG's finding that respondent's defense that he secured a bail bond was a mere afterthought. Furthermore, complainant filed her complaint on 12 September 1983, which means that the bond was notarized only after the complaint was filed. Secondly, the bail bond was not valid for theft and robbery cases. Although there was a cancellation of such phrase through marking pen, the same was not countersigned, and hence the cancellation was void. Thirdly, the payment for the bond was not recorded and neither was it remitted to the issuer of the bond. This means that the bond was a mere piece of paper without any value for it failed to serve its purpose.

Complainant demanded for the return of the P500 but respondent kept on insisting that complainant seek refund from Alberto. Respondent has the duty to account for the money entrusted to him by complainant. In Pariñas v. Paguinto,25 we held that "a lawyer shall account for all money or property collected from the client. Money entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose, such as for filing fee, but not used for failure to file the case must immediately be returned to the client on demand." In the present case, money for the payment of the bond's premium was not used for the purpose intended. Hence, respondent must return the amount to complainant upon demand.

A lawyer's failure to return upon demand the funds held by him on behalf of his client gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use in violation of the trust reposed in him by his client. Such act is a gross violation of general morality as well as of professional ethics. It impairs public confidence in the legal profession and deserves punishment.26

This is not the first time respondent is found to have unlawfully withheld and misappropriated money. In Igual v. Javier,27 the Court held that respondent had unjustifiably refused to return Igual's money upon demand and his absence of integrity was highlighted by his "half-baked excuses, hoary pretenses and blatant lies in his testimony before the IBP Committee on Bar Discipline." The Court suspended Javier from the practice of law for a period of one month and ordered him to restitute the amount of P7,000 to Igual. In that case, we reminded respondent that he was "expected to always live up to the standards embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility for the relationship between an attorney and his client is highly fiduciary in nature and demands utmost fidelity and good faith." 28

We reiterate this reminder. Lawyers who convert the funds entrusted to them are in gross violation of professional ethics and are guilty of betrayal of public confidence in the legal profession.29 Those who are guilty of such infraction may be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law.30

WHEREFORE, we SUSPEND Atty. Rolando S. Javier from the practice of law for SIX MONTHS effective upon finality of this Decision. We ORDER respondent to restitute complainant Leticia Adrimisin the Five Hundred Pesos (P500) with legal interest computed from 12 September 1983 until full payment. Respondent shall submit to the Court proof of restitution within ten (10) days from payment.

Let copies of this resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant to be appended to respondent's personal record, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. The Court Administrator shall furnish copies to all courts of the land for their information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.

Panganiban, C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Garcia, Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 3-4.

2 Rollo, p. 5 and Exhibit "A," exhibits for complainant and respondent, p. 1.

3 TSN, 8 April 1985, p. 11.

4 Id. at 12-13.

5 Id. at 25.

6 Id. at 28-29.

7 Id. at 34.

8 TSN, 15 August 1985, p. 25.

9 Id. at 10-13.

10 Id. at 16.

11 Id. at 29.

12 Exhibit "1," exhibits for complainant and respondent, p. 7.

13 TSN, supra note 8, at 46-47.

14 Id. at 48.

15 Id. at 41-43.

16 TSN, 30 September 1985, pp. 7-8.

17 Id. at 10.

18 Id.

19 Id. at 20.

20 Rollo, pp. 21-25.

21 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 16.

22 Code of Professional Responsibility, Rule 16.01.

23 Code of Professional Responsibility, Rule 18.03.

24 Burbe v. Magulta, 432 Phil. 840, 850 (2002).

25 A.C. No. 6297, 13 July 2004, 434 SCRA 179, 183.

26 R. Agpalo, Legal and Judicial Ethics 242 (2002 ed.)

27 324 Phil. 698, 709 (1996).

28 Id.

29 Sipin-Nabor v. Baterina, 412 Phil. 419, 424 (2001).

30 Espiritu v. Ulep, A.C. No. 5808, 4 May 2005, 458 SCRA 1, 9.

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