A.C. No. 10050, December 03, 2013
VICTORIA C. HEENAN, Complainant, v. ATTY. ERLINDA ESPEJO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO JR., J.:
The failure of a lawyer to answer the complaint for disbarment despite due notice and to appear on the scheduled hearings set, shows his flouting resistance to lawful orders of the court and illustrates his deficiency for his oath of office as a lawyer, which deserves disciplinary sanction.On December 14, 2012, the Board of Governors passed a Resolution14 adopting the Report and Recommendation of the CBD with the modification lowering Atty. Espejo’s suspension from five (5) years to two (2) years. Atty. Espejo was also ordered to return to Victoria the amount of PhP 250,000 within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice with legal interest reckoned from the time the demand was made. The Resolution reads:
Moreover, respondent[’s] acts of issuing checks with insufficient funds and despite repeated demands [she] failed to comply with her obligation and her disregard and failure to appear for preliminary investigation and to submit her counter-affidavit to answer the charges against her for Estafa and Violation of BP 22, constitute grave misconduct that also warrant disciplinary action against respondent.
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby unanimously ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in 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 applicable laws and rules, and considering respondent’s grave misconduct, Atty. Erlinda Espejo is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for two (2) years and Ordered to Return to complainant the amount of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand (P250,000.00) Pesos within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice with legal interest reckoned from the time the demand was made.On August 8, 2013, the CBD transmitted to this Court the Notice of the Resolution pertaining to Resolution No. XX-2012-419 along with the records of this case.15chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
In the present case, respondent admitted his monetary obligations to the complaint but offered no justifiable reason for his continued refusal to pay. Complainant made several demands, both verbal and written, but respondent just ignored them and even made himself scarce. Although he acknowledged his financial obligations to complainant, respondent never offered nor made arrangements to pay his debt. On the contrary, he refused to recognize any wrong doing nor shown remorse for issuing worthless checks, an act constituting gross misconduct. Respondent must be reminded that it is his duty as a lawyer to faithfully perform at all times his duties to society, to the bar, to the courts and to his clients. As part of his duties, he must promptly pay his financial obligations.17The fact that Atty. Espejo obtained the loan and issued the worthless checks in her private capacity and not as an attorney of Victoria is of no moment. As We have held in several cases, a lawyer may be disciplined not only for malpractice and dishonesty in his profession but also for gross misconduct outside of his professional capacity. While the Court may not ordinarily discipline a lawyer for misconduct committed in his non-professional or private capacity, the Court may be justified in suspending or removing him as an attorney where his misconduct outside of the lawyer’s professional dealings is so gross in character as to show him morally unfit and unworthy of the privilege which his licenses and the law confer.18
We have held that the issuance of checks which were later dishonored for having been drawn against a closed account indicates a lawyer’s 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. 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. It also manifests a lawyer’s 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.Further, the misconduct of Atty. Espejo is aggravated by her unjustified refusal to obey the orders of the IBP directing her to file an answer to the complaint of Victoria and to appear at the scheduled mandatory conference. This constitutes blatant disrespect for the IBP which amounts to conduct unbecoming a lawyer. In Almendarez, Jr. v. Langit, We held that a lawyer must maintain respect not only for the courts, but also for judicial officers and other duly constituted authorities, including the IBP:
x x x
In Barrios v. Martinez, we disbarred the respondent who issued worthless checks for which he was convicted in the criminal case filed against him.
In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct, for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. The same sanction was imposed on the respondent-lawyer in Rangwani v. Dino having been found guilty of gross misconduct for issuing bad checks in payment of a piece of property the title of which was only entrusted to him by the complainant.19
The misconduct of respondent is aggravated by his unjustified refusal to heed the orders of the IBP requiring him to file an answer to the complaint-affidavit and, afterwards, to appear at the mandatory conference. Although respondent did not appear at the conference, the IBP gave him another chance to defend himself through a position paper. Still, respondent ignored this directive, exhibiting a blatant disrespect for authority. Indeed, he is justly charged with conduct unbecoming a lawyer, for a lawyer is expected to uphold the law and promote respect for legal processes. Further, a lawyer must observe and maintain respect not only to the courts, but also to judicial officers and other duly constituted authorities, including the IBP. Under Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, the Court has empowered the IBP to conduct proceedings for the disbarment, suspension, or discipline of attorneys.20Undoubtedly, Atty. Espejo’s issuance of worthless checks and her blatant refusal to heed the directives of the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office and the IBP contravene Canon 1, Rule 1.01; Canon 7, Rule 7.03; and Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provide:
CANON 1 – A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR THE LAW AND LEGAL PROCESSES.We find the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years, as recommended by the IBP, commensurate under the circumstances.
Rule 1.01. – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
CANON 7 – A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE INTEGRATED BAR.
Rule 7.03 – A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.
CANON 11 – A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE AND MAINTAIN THE RESPECT DUE TO THE COURTS AND TO JUDICIAL OFFICES AND SHOULD INSIST ON SIMILAR CONDUCT BY OTHERS.
1Rollo, p. 34. The Real Bank Check No. 3026852, Annex “A” of Victoria C. Heenan’s Position Paper.
2 Id. at 35. The Real Bank Check No. 3152815, Annex “B” of Victoria C. Heenan’s Position Paper.
3 Id. at 36. Annex “C” of Victoria C. Heenan’s Position Paper.
4 Id. at 38.
5 Id. at 21-22.
6 Id. at 50.
7 Id. at 22.
8 Id. at 10.
9 Id. at 11.
10 Id. at 12.
11 Id. at 13.
12 Id. at 17-45
13 Id. at 49-51.
14 Id. at 48.
15 Id. at 47.
16Lao v. Medel, A.C. No. 5916, July 1, 2003, 405 SCRA 227.
17 A.C. No. 6971, February 23, 2006, 483 SCRA 154, 159-160.
18Lao v. Medel, supra note 16, at 233.
19Wilkie v. Limos, A.C. No. 7505, October 24, 2008, 570 SCRA 1, 8, 10.
20 A.C. No. 7057, July 25, 2006, 496 SCRA 402, 408.
21Roa v. Moreno, A.C. No. 8232, April 21, 2010, 618 SCRA 693, 700.
22Ronquillo v. Cezar, A.C. No. 6288, June 16, 2006, 491 SCRA 1, 8.