[A.C. NO. 6711 : July 3, 2007]
MA. LUISA HADJULA, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROCELES F. MADIANDA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Under consideration is Resolution No. XVI-2004-472 of the Board of Governors, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), relative to the complaint for disbarment filed by herein complainant Ma. Luisa Hadjula against respondent Atty. Roceles F. Madianda.
The case started when, in an AFFIDAVIT-COMPLAINT1 bearing date September 7, 2002 and filed with the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, complainant charged Atty. Roceles F. Madianda with violation of Article 2092 of the Revised Penal Code and Canon Nos. 15.02 and 21.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
In said affidavit-complaint, complainant alleged that she and respondent used to be friends as they both worked at the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) whereat respondent was the Chief Legal Officer while she was the Chief Nurse of the Medical, Dental and Nursing Services. Complainant claimed that, sometime in 1998, she approached respondent for some legal advice. Complainant further alleged that, in the course of their conversation which was supposed to be kept confidential, she disclosed personal secrets and produced copies of a marriage contract, a birth certificate and a baptismal certificate, only to be informed later by the respondent that she (respondent) would refer the matter to a lawyer friend. It was malicious, so complainant states, of respondent to have refused handling her case only after she had already heard her secrets.
Continuing, complainant averred that her friendship with respondent soured after her filing, in the later part of 2000, of criminal and disciplinary actions against the latter. What, per complainant's account, precipitated the filing was when respondent, then a member of the BFP promotion board, demanded a cellular phone in exchange for the complainant's promotion.
According to complainant, respondent, in retaliation to the filing of the aforesaid actions, filed a COUNTER COMPLAINT3 with the Ombudsman charging her (complainant) with violation of Section 3(a) of Republic Act No. 3019,4 falsification of public documents and immorality, the last two charges being based on the disclosures complainant earlier made to respondent. And also on the basis of the same disclosures, complainant further stated, a disciplinary case was also instituted against her before the Professional Regulation Commission.
Complainant seeks the suspension and/or disbarment of respondent for the latter's act of disclosing personal secrets and confidential information she revealed in the course of seeking respondent's legal advice.
In an order dated October 2, 2002, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline required respondent to file her answer to the complaint.
In her answer, styled as COUNTER-AFFIDAVIT,5 respondent denied giving legal advice to the complainant and dismissed any suggestion about the existence of a lawyer-client relationship between them. Respondent also stated the observation that the supposed confidential data and sensitive documents adverted to are in fact matters of common knowledge in the BFP. The relevant portions of the answer read:
5. I specifically deny the allegation of F/SUPT. MA. LUISA C. HADJULA in paragraph 4 of her AFFIDAVIT-COMPLAINT for reason that she never WAS MY CLIENT nor we ever had any LAWYER-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP that ever existed ever since and that never obtained any legal advice from me regarding her PERSONAL PROBLEMS or PERSONAL SECRETS. She likewise never delivered to me legal documents much more told me some confidential information or secrets. That is because I never entertain LEGAL QUERIES or CONSULTATION regarding PERSONAL MATTERS since I know as a LAWYER of the Bureau of Fire Protection that I am not allowed to privately practice law and it might also result to CONFLICT OF INTEREST. As a matter of fact, whenever there will be PERSONAL MATTERS referred to me, I just referred them to private law practitioners and never entertain the same, NOR listen to their stories or examine or accept any document.
9. I specifically deny the allegation of F/SUPT. MA. LUISA C. HADJULA in paragraph 8 of her AFFIDAVIT-COMPLAINT, the truth of the matter is that her ILLICIT RELATIONSHIP and her illegal and unlawful activities are known in the Bureau of Fire Protection since she also filed CHILD SUPPORT case against her lover - where she has a child '.
Moreover, the alleged DOCUMENTS she purportedly have shown to me sometime in 1998, are all part of public records '.
Furthermore, F/SUPT. MA. LUISA C. HADJULA, is filing the instant case just to get even with me or to force me to settle and withdraw the CASES I FILED AGAINST HER since she knows that she will certainly be DISMISSED FROM SERVICE, REMOVED FROM THE PRC ROLL and CRIMINALLY CONVICTED of her ILLICIT, IMMORAL, ILLEGAL and UNLAWFUL ACTS.
On October 7, 2004, the Investigating Commissioner of the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline came out with a Report and Recommendation, stating that the information related by complainant to the respondent is "protected under the attorney-client privilege communication." Prescinding from this postulate, the Investigating Commissioner found the respondent to have violated legal ethics when she "[revealed] information given to her during a legal consultation," and accordingly recommended that respondent be reprimanded therefor, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully recommended that respondent Atty. Roceles Madianda be reprimanded for revealing the secrets of the complainant.
On November 4, 2004, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XVI-2004-472 reading as follows:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, 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 the actuation of revealing information given to respondent during a legal consultation, Atty. Roceles Madianda is hereby REPRIMANDED.
We AGREE with the recommendation and the premises holding it together.
As it were, complainant went to respondent, a lawyer who incidentally was also then a friend, to bare what she considered personal secrets and sensitive documents for the purpose of obtaining legal advice and assistance. The moment complainant approached the then receptive respondent to seek legal advice, a veritable lawyer-client relationship evolved between the two. Such relationship imposes upon the lawyer certain restrictions circumscribed by the ethics of the profession. Among the burdens of the relationship is that which enjoins the lawyer, respondent in this instance, to keep inviolate confidential information acquired or revealed during legal consultations. The fact that one is, at the end of the day, not inclined to handle the client's case is hardly of consequence. Of little moment, too, is the fact that no formal professional engagement follows the consultation. Nor will it make any difference that no contract whatsoever was executed by the parties to memorialize the relationship. As we said in Burbe v. Magulta,6 -
A lawyer-client relationship was established from the very first moment complainant asked respondent for legal advise regarding the former's business. To constitute professional employment, it is not essential that the client employed the attorney professionally on any previous occasion.
It is not necessary that any retainer be paid, promised, or charged; neither is it material that the attorney consulted did not afterward handle the case for which his service had been sought.
It a person, in respect to business affairs or troubles of any kind, consults a lawyer with a view to obtaining professional advice or assistance, and the attorney voluntarily permits or acquiesces with the consultation, then the professional employments is established.
Likewise, a lawyer-client relationship exists notwithstanding the close personal relationship between the lawyer and the complainant or the non-payment of the former's fees.
Dean Wigmore lists the essential factors to establish the existence of the attorney-client privilege communication, viz:
(1) Where legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal advisor, (8) except the protection be waived.7
With the view we take of this case, respondent indeed breached his duty of preserving the confidence of a client. As found by the IBP Investigating Commissioner, the documents shown and the information revealed in confidence to the respondent in the course of the legal consultation in question, were used as bases in the criminal and administrative complaints lodged against the complainant.
The purpose of the rule of confidentiality is actually to protect the client from possible breach of confidence as a result of a consultation with a lawyer.
The seriousness of the respondent's offense notwithstanding, the Court feels that there is room for compassion, absent compelling evidence that the respondent acted with ill-will. Without meaning to condone the error of respondent's ways, what at bottom is before the Court is two former friends becoming bitter enemies and filing charges and counter-charges against each other using whatever convenient tools and data were readily available. Unfortunately, the personal information respondent gathered from her conversation with complainant became handy in her quest to even the score. At the end of the day, it appears clear to us that respondent was actuated by the urge to retaliate without perhaps realizing that, in the process of giving vent to a negative sentiment, she was violating the rule on confidentiality.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, respondent Atty. Roceles F. Madianda is hereby REPRIMANDED and admonished to be circumspect in her handling of information acquired as a result of a lawyer-client relationship. She is also STERNLY WARNED against a repetition of the same or similar act complained of.
Puno, (Chief Justice), Corona, Azcuna, Garcia, JJ., concur.
Sandoval-Gutierrez,J., on leave.