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A.C. No. 9149, September 04, 2013 - JULIAN PENILLA, Complainant, v. ATTY. QUINTIN P. ALCID, JR., Respondent.

A.C. No. 9149, September 04, 2013 - JULIAN PENILLA, Complainant, v. ATTY. QUINTIN P. ALCID, JR., Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

A.C. No. 9149, September 04, 2013

JULIAN PENILLA, Complainant, v. ATTY. QUINTIN P. ALCID, JR., Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

 

Before this Court is an administrative complaint1 filed against respondent Atty. Quintin P. Alcid, Jr. for violation of the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility, and for gross misconduct in the performance of his duty as a lawyer.

The antecedent facts follow:nadcralaw

Complainant Julian Penilla entered into an agreement with Spouses Rey and Evelyn Garin (the spouses) for the repair of his Volkswagen automobile. Despite full payment, the spouses defaulted in their obligation. Thus, complainant decided to file a case for breach of contract against the spouses where he engaged the services of respondent as counsel.

Respondent sent a demand letter to the spouses and asked for the refund of complainant’s payment. When the spouses failed to return the payment, respondent advised complainant that he would file a criminal case for estafa against said spouses. Respondent charged P30,000 as attorney’s fees and P10,000 as filing fees. Complainant turned over the relevant documents to respondent and paid the fees in tranches. Respondent then filed the complaint for estafa before Asst. City Prosecutor Jose C. Fortuno of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City. Respondent attended the hearing with complainant but the spouses did not appear. After the hearing, complainant paid another P1,000 to respondent as appearance fee. Henceforth, complainant and respondent have conflicting narrations of the subsequent events and transactions that transpired.

Complainant alleges that when the case was submitted for resolution, respondent told him that they have to give a bottle of Carlos Primero I to Asst. City Prosecutor Fortuno to expedite a favorable resolution of the case. Complainant claims that despite initial reservations, he later acceded to respondent’s suggestion, bought a bottle of Carlos Primero I for P950 and delivered it to respondent’s office.

Asst. City Prosecutor Fortuno later issued a resolution dismissing the estafa case against the spouses. Respondent allegedly told complainant that a motion for reconsideration was “needed to have [the resolution] reversed.”2 Respondent then prepared the motion and promised complainant that he would fix the problem. On February 18, 2002, the motion was denied for lack of merit. Respondent then told complainant that he could not do anything about the adverse decision and presented the option of filing a civil case for specific performance against the spouses for the refund of the money plus damages. Complainant paid an additional P10,000 to respondent which he asked for the payment of filing fees. After complainant signed the complaint, he was told by respondent to await further notice as to the status of the case. Complainant claims that respondent never gave him any update thereafter.

Complainant asserts having made numerous and unsuccessful attempts to follow-up the status of the case and meet with respondent at his office. He admits, however, that in one instance he was able to talk to respondent who told him that the case was not progressing because the spouses could not be located. In the same meeting, respondent asked complainant to determine the whereabouts of the spouses. Complainant returned to respondent’s office on January 24, 2005, but because respondent was not around, complainant left with respondent’s secretary a letter regarding the possible location of the spouses.

Complainant claims not hearing from respondent again despite his several letters conveying his disappointment and requesting for the return of the money and the documents in respondent’s possession. Complainant then sought the assistance of the radio program “Ito ang Batas with Atty. Aga” to solve his predicament. Following the advice he gathered, complainant went to the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Caloocan City Metropolitan Trial Court and Regional Trial Court (RTC). Complainant learned that a civil case for Specific Performance and Damages was filed on June 6, 20023 but was dismissed on June 13, 2002. He also found out that the filing fee was only P2,440 and not P10,000 as earlier stated by respondent. Atty. Aga of the same radio program also sent respondent a letter calling his attention to complainant’s problem. The letter, like all of complainant’s previous letters, was unheeded.

On January 9, 2006, complainant filed before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) the instant administrative case praying that respondent be found guilty of gross misconduct for violating the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility, and for appropriate administrative sanctions to be imposed.

Respondent harps a different tale.

In an Answer4 filed on January 30, 2006, respondent prayed that the case be dismissed for lack of merit. He denied charging complainant P10,000 as filing fees for the estafa case and claimed that he charged and received only P2,000. He also countered that the payment of P30,000 made by the complainant was his acceptance fee for both the estafa case and civil case. Respondent likewise denied the following other allegations of complainant: that he assured the success of the case before the prosecutor; that he asked complainant to give a bottle of Carlos Primero I to the prosecutor; that he promised to fix the case; and that he charged P10,000, as he only charged P5,000, as filing fee for the civil case.

Respondent explained that it was not a matter of indifference on his part when he failed to inform petitioner of the status of the case. In fact, he was willing to return the money and the documents of complainant. What allegedly prevented him from communicating with complainant was the fact that complainant would go to his office during days and times that he would be attending his daily court hearings.

The IBP-CBD called for a mandatory conference on April 28, 2006. Only complainant and his counsel attended.5 The conference was reset and terminated on June 9, 2006. The parties were directed to file their verified position papers within 15 days,6 to which complainant and respondent complied.7cralawlibrary

On July 18, 2006, respondent filed a Reply8 praying for the dismissal of the case for lack of factual and legal bases. He stated that he had performed his duties as complainant’s counsel when he filed the criminal case before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City and the civil case before the RTC of Caloocan City. He averred that he should not be blamed for the dismissal of both cases as his job was to ensure that justice is served and not to win the case. It was unethical for him to guarantee the success of the case and resort to unethical means to win such case for the client. He continued to deny that he asked complainant to give the prosecutor a bottle of Carlos Primero I and that the filing fees he collected totalled P20,000. Respondent argued that it is incredulous that the total sum of all the fees that he had allegedly collected exceeded P30,000 – the amount being claimed by complainant from the spouses.

In its Report and Recommendation9 dated September 12, 2008, the IBP-CBD recommended the suspension of respondent from the practice of law for six months “for negligence within the meaning of Canon 18 and transgression of Rule 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,” viz:nadcralaw
In the case under consideration, there are certain matters which keep sticking out like a sore thumb rendering them difficult to escape notice.

One is the filing of a criminal complaint for estafa arising out of a violation of the contract for repair of the Volks Wagon (sic) car. It is basic that when an act or omission emanates from a contract, oral or written, the consequent result is a breach of the contract, hence, properly actionable in a civil suit for damages. As correctly pointed out by the Investigating Prosecutor, the liability of the respondent is purely civil in nature because the complaint arose from a contract of services and the respondent (spouses Garin) failed to perform their contractual obligation under the contract.

x x x x

Another one is the filing of a civil complaint for specific performance and damages (after the dismissal of the criminal complaint for estafa) in the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City where the actual damages claimed is P36,000.00.

It is also basic that the civil complaint for P36,000.00 should have been filed with the MTC [which] has jurisdiction over the same. One of the “firsts” that a lawyer ascertains in filing an action is the proper forum or court with whom the suit or action shall be filed. In June 2002 when the civil complaint was filed in court, the jurisdiction of the MTC has already expanded such that the jurisdictional amount of the RTC is already P400,000.00.

x x x x

Another thing is the various follow-ups made by respondent’s client as evidenced by the letters marked as Exhibits “D”, “E”, “F”, “G” and “H” which were all received by complainant’s secretary, except for Exhibit “H” which was received by Atty. Asong, not to mention Exhibit “M” which was sent by “Atty. Aga”. These efforts of the complainant were not reciprocated by the respondent with good faith. Respondent chose to ignore them and reasoned out that he is willing to meet with the complainant and return the money and documents received by reason of the legal engagement, but omitted to communicate with him for the purpose of fixing the time and place for the meeting. This failure suggests a clear disregard of the client’s demand which was done in bad faith on the part of respondent.10
On December 11, 2008, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XVIII-2008-646, adopting and approving the recommendation of the IBP-CBD. The Resolution11 reads:nadcralaw
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 Respondent’s violation of Canon 18 and Rule 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for his negligence, Atty. Quintin P. Alcid, Jr. is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months.
On April 24, 2009, respondent sought reconsideration12 and asked that the penalty of suspension be reduced to warning or reprimand. After three days, or on April 27, 2009, respondent filed a “Motion to Admit Amended ‘Motion for Reconsideration’ Upon Leave of Office.”13 Respondent asserted that the failure to inform complainant of the status of the cases should not be attributed to him alone. He stressed that complainant had always been informed that he only had time to meet with his clients in the afternoon at his office in Quezon City. Despite such notice, complainant kept going to his office in Tandang Sora. He admitted that though he committed lapses which would amount to negligence in violation of Canon 18 and Rule 18.04, they were done unknowingly and without malice or bad faith. He also stressed that this was his first infraction.

In its Resolution No. XIX-2011-473 dated June 26, 2011, the IBP Board of Governors denied respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration for lack of merit.14 On August 15, 2011, respondent filed a second Motion for Reconsideration15 which was no longer acted upon due to the transmittal of the records of the case to this Court by the IBP on August 16, 2011.16cralawlibrary

On September 14, 2011, the Court issued a Resolution17 and noted the aforementioned Notices of Resolution dated December 11, 2008 and June 26, 2011. On December 14, 2011, it issued another Resolution18 noting the Indorsement dated August 16, 2011 of Director Alicia A. Risos-Vidal and respondent’s second Motion for Reconsideration dated August 15, 2011.

We sustain the findings of the IBP that respondent committed professional negligence under Canon 18 and Rule 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, with a modification that we also find respondent guilty of violating Canon 17 and Rule 18.03 of the Code and the Lawyer’s Oath.

A lawyer may be disbarred or suspended for any violation of his oath, a patent disregard of his duties, or an odious deportment unbecoming an attorney. A lawyer must at no time be wanting in probity and moral fiber which are not only conditions precedent to his entrance to the Bar but are likewise essential demands for his continued membership therein.19cralawlibrary

The Complaint before the IBP-CBD charged respondent with violation of his oath and the following provisions under the Code of Professional Responsibility:nadcralaw
a)
Canon 15 – A lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transactions with his client;
 
 
b)
Rule 15.[06, Canon 15] – A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence any public official, tribunal or legislative body;
 
 
c)
Rule 16.01[, Canon 16] – A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from his client;
 
 
d)
Canon 17 – A lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client and he shall be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him;
 
 
e)
Canon 18 – A lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence;
 
 
f)
Rule 18.03[, Canon 18] – A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable; and
 
 
g)
Rule 18.04[, Canon 18] – A lawyer shall keep his client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the client’s request for information.20
A review of the proceedings and the evidence in the case at bar shows that respondent violated Canon 18 and Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Complainant correctly alleged that respondent violated his oath under Canon 18 to “serve his client with competence and diligence” when respondent filed a criminal case for estafa when the facts of the case would have warranted the filing of a civil case for breach of contract. To be sure, after the complaint for estafa was dismissed, respondent committed another similar blunder by filing a civil case for specific performance and damages before the RTC. The complaint, having an alternative prayer for the payment of damages, should have been filed with the Municipal Trial Court which has jurisdiction over complainant’s claim which amounts to only P36,000. As correctly stated in the Report and Recommendation of the IBP-CBD:nadcralaw
Batas Pambansa Blg. 129[,] as amended by R.A. No. 7691 which took effect on April 15, 1994[,] vests in the MTCs of Metro Manila exclusive original jurisdiction of civil cases where the amount of demand does not exceed P200,000.00 exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses and costs (Sec. 33), and after five (5) years from the effectivity of the Act, the same shall be adjusted to P400,000.00 (Sec. 34).21
The errors committed by respondent with respect to the nature of the remedy adopted in the criminal complaint and the forum selected in the civil complaint were so basic and could have been easily averted had he been more diligent and circumspect in his role as counsel for complainant. What aggravates respondent’s offense is the fact that his previous mistake in filing the estafa case did not motivate him to be more conscientious, diligent and vigilant in handling the case of complainant. The civil case he subsequently filed for complainant was dismissed due to what later turned out to be a basic jurisdictional error.

That is not all. After the criminal and civil cases were dismissed, respondent was plainly negligent and did not apprise complainant of the status and progress of both cases he filed for the latter. He paid no attention and showed no importance to complainant’s cause despite repeated follow-ups. Clearly, respondent is not only guilty of incompetence in handling the cases. His lack of professionalism in dealing with complainant is also gross and inexcusable. In what may seem to be a helpless attempt to solve his predicament, complainant even had to resort to consulting a program in a radio station to recover his money from respondent, or at the very least, get his attention.

Respondent’s negligence under Rules 18.03 and 18.04 is also beyond contention. A client pays his lawyer hard-earned money as professional fees. In return, “[e]very case a lawyer accepts deserves his full attention, skill and competence, regardless of its importance and whether he accepts it for a fee or for free. Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility enjoins a lawyer not to ‘neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.’ He must constantly keep in mind that his actions or omissions or nonfeasance would be binding upon his client. He is expected to be acquainted with the rudiments of law and legal procedure, and a client who deals with him has the right to expect not just a good amount of professional learning and competence but also a whole-hearted fealty to the client’s cause.”22 Similarly, under Rule 18.04, a lawyer has the duty to apprise his client of the status and developments of the case and all other information relevant thereto. He must be consistently mindful of his obligation to respond promptly should there be queries or requests for information from the client.

In the case at bar, respondent explained that he failed to update complainant of the status of the cases he filed because their time did not always coincide. The excuse proffered by respondent is too lame and flimsy to be given credit. Respondent himself admitted that he had notice that complainant had visited his office many times. Yet, despite the efforts exerted and the vigilance exhibited by complainant, respondent neglected and failed to fulfill his obligation under Rules 18.03 and 18.04 to keep his client informed of the status of his case and to respond within a reasonable time to the client’s request for information.

Finally, respondent also violated Canon 17 of the Code which states that “[a] lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client and he shall be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him.” The legal profession dictates that it is not a mere duty, but an obligation, of a lawyer to accord the highest degree of fidelity, zeal and fervor in the protection of the client’s interest. The most thorough groundwork and study must be undertaken in order to safeguard the interest of the client. The honor bestowed on his person to carry the title of a lawyer does not end upon taking the Lawyer’s Oath and signing the Roll of Attorneys. Rather, such honor attaches to him for the entire duration of his practice of law and carries with it the consequent responsibility of not only satisfying the basic requirements but also going the extra mile in the protection of the interests of the client and the pursuit of justice. Respondent has defied and failed to perform such duty and his omission is tantamount to a desecration of the Lawyer’s Oath.

All said, in administrative cases for disbarment or suspension against lawyers, it is the complainant who has the burden to prove by preponderance of evidence23 the allegations in the complaint. In the instant case, complainant was only able to prove respondent’s violation of Canons 17 and 18, and Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Lawyer’s Oath. Complainant failed to substantiate his claim that respondent violated Canon 15 and Rule 15.06 of the Code of Professional Responsibility when respondent allegedly instructed him to give a bottle of Carlos Primero I to Asst. City Prosecutor Fortuno in order to get a favorable decision. Similarly, complainant was not able to present evidence that respondent indeed violated Rule 16.01 of Canon 16 by allegedly collecting money from him in excess of the required filing fees.

As to respondent’s proven acts and omissions which violate Canons 17 and 18 and Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Lawyer’s Oath, we find the same to constitute gross misconduct for which he may be suspended under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, viz:nadcralaw
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 willful disobedience appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. x x x.
WHEREFORE, the Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors adopting and approving the Decision of the Investigating Commissioner is hereby AFFIRMED with a MODIFICATION that respondent Atty. Quintin P. Alcid, Jr. is hereby found GUILTY of gross misconduct for violating Canons 17 and 18, and Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as the Lawyer’s Oath. This Court hereby imposes upon respondent the penalty of SUSPENSION from the practice of law for a period of SIX (6) MONTHS to commence immediately upon receipt of this Decision. Respondent is further ADMONISHED to be more circumspect and diligent in handling the cases of his clients, and STERNLY WARNED that a commission of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Court Administrator to be disseminated to all courts throughout the country, to the Office of the Bar Confidant to be appended to Atty. Quintin P. Alcid, Jr.’s personal records, and to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for its information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., (Chairperson), Bersamin, Reyes, and Perlas-Bernabe,*JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


* Designated additional member per Special Order No. 1529 dated August 29, 2013.

1Rollo, pp. 2-7. Docketed as CBD Case No. 05-1630.

2 Id. at 4.

3 Id. at 18-21. Filed before the RTC, Branch 131, Caloocan City, and docketed as Civil Case No. C-20115.

4 Id. at 27-30.

5 Id. at 35.

6 Id. at 77.

7 Id. at 37-44, 53-57.

8 Id. at 78-80.chanrobles virtualawlibrary

9 Id. at 143-151.

10 Id. at 147-149.

11 Id. at 142, 165. Signed by National Secretary Tomas N. Prado.

12 Id. at 152-155.

13 Id. at 156-160.

14 Id. at 164.

15 Id. at 178-182.

16 Id. at 177. Signed by Director for Bar Discipline Alicia A. Risos-Vidal.

17 Id. at 175-176.

18 Id. at 185.

19Gonzaga v. Atty. Villanueva, Jr., 478 Phil. 859, 869 (2004), citing Tucay v. Atty. Tucay, 376 Phil. 336, 340 (1999).

20Rollo, p. 2.

21 Id. at 171.

22 Agpalo, Ruben E., LEGAL AND JUDICIAL ETHICS, Seventh Edition (2002), p. 209, citing Santiago v. Fojas, Adm. Case No. 4103, September 7, 1995, 248 SCRA 69, 75-76 & Torres v. Orden, A.C. No. 4646, April 6, 2000, 330 SCRA 1, 5.

23Rudecon Management Corporation v. Atty. Camacho, 480 Phil. 652, 660 (2004), citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Sardido, 449 Phil. 619, 629 (2003) and Berbano v. Atty. Barcelona, 457 Phil. 331, 341 (2003).
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