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A.C. No. 5687 - Felix E. Edquibal v. Atty. Roberto Ferrer, Jr.

A.C. No. 5687 - Felix E. Edquibal v. Atty. Roberto Ferrer, Jr.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[A.C. NO. 5687 : February 03, 2005]

FELIX E. EDQUIBAL, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROBERTO FERRER, JR., Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

In a letter-complaint1 under oath dated January 8, 2002, Felix E. Edquibal, complainant, charged Atty. Roberto Ferrer, Jr., respondent, with professional misconduct and neglect of duty.

Complainant alleged that he engaged the services of respondent to assist his mother Ursula Edquibal in cases she filed against his sister Delia Edquibal-Garcia involving a certain real property in Masinloc, Zambales. His mother obtained favorable judgments in four (4) out of the five (5) cases handled by respondent. However, in Civil Case No. RTC-1495-I (filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 70, Iba, Zambales), the trial judge rendered a decision adverse to his mother. Respondent then advised complainant to appeal to the Court of Appeals and that the cost involved is P4,000.00. When complainant informed respondent that he does not have enough money, the latter said P2,000.00 would be sufficient for the moment. After receiving the money from complainant, respondent told him just to wait for the result. The appeal was docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 65019.

When complainant failed to hear from respondent in January 2001, he went to the Court of Appeals to follow-up the appealed case. He then learned that the appeal was dismissed for failure of the appellant to file the required appellant's brief.

In his comment2 dated June 2, 2003, respondent denied that he filed an appeal, on behalf of complainant's mother, with the Court of Appeals or received P2,000.00. What happened was that complainant told him that there is someone in the Court of Appeals who can help him regarding his appeal. Respondent claimed that he "did his best" for complainant's mother and did not even ask for attorney's fees.

On July 30, 2003, we referred the complaint to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report, and recommendation.

In his Report and Recommendation dated March 19, 2004, Atty. Leland R. Villadolid, IBP Commissioner, made the following findings:

"It is clear from the records of this case that per the records of CA G-R. CV No. 65019, Respondent is the counsel of record of defendants-appellants therein (including Complainant's mother). In the Resolution dated 31 August 000, it was explicitly noted that '(N)otice sent to counsel for defendants-appellants requiring him to file appellant's brief within forty-five (45) days from receipt thereof was received by him on March 16, 2000. 'If it is true that Respondent never agreed to handle the appeal, upon receipt of said notice, Respondent should have immediately manifested to the Court of Appeals that he is not handling the appeal on behalf of said defendants-appellants. Thus, Section 2, Rule 44 of the Rules of Civil Procedure clearly states that '[T]he counsel and guardians ad litem of the parties in the court of origin shall be respectively considered as their counsel and guardians ad litem in the Court of Appeals. 'By failing to do so, the Court of Appeals had every reason to assume that he was likewise representing defendants-appellants in the appeal. Accordingly, his failure to timely file the required appellants' brief resulted in the dismissal of the appeal.

The facts of this case clearly show that Respondent violated Canon 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility ('CPR') .

Undoubtedly, Respondent's failure to exercise due diligence in protecting and attending to the interest of Complainant (Complainant's mother) caused the latter material prejudice. It should be remembered that the moment a lawyer takes a client's cause, he covenants that he will exert all effort for its prosecution until its final conclusion. A lawyer who fails to exercise due diligence or abandons his client's cause makes him unworthy of the trust reposed in him by the latter. x x x"

Atty. Villadolid recommended to the IBP Board of Governors that respondent be reprimanded "for failure to act with reasonable diligence in representing the cause of complainant;" and that respondent be directed to "return the amount of P2,000.00 as and by way of restitution to complainant."

In its Resolution No. XVI-2004-383 dated July 30, 2004, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation of Atty. Villadolid, thus:

"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 the Resolution as Annex "A"; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering the respondent's failure to act with reasonable diligence in representing the cause of complainant, Atty. Roberto Ferrer, Jr., is hereby REPRIMANDED and Ordered to Return the amount of P2,000,00 by way of Restitution to complainant."3

We sustain the Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors except as to the penalty recommended.

Records show that respondent was the counsel of record for the appellants, complainant's mother and other relatives in CA-G.R. CV No. 65019. The Resolution of the Court of Appeals dated August 31, 2000 clearly states that the "notice sent to counsel for defendants-appellants requiring him to file appellant's brief within forty-five (45) days from receipt thereof, was received by him on March 16, 2000."4 However, respondent failed to file the appellants' brief despite receipt of such notice.

Section 2, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides:

SEC. 2. Counsel and guardians. - The counsel and guardians ad litemof the parties in the court of origin shall be respectively considered as their counsel and guardians ad litem in the Court of Appeals. When others appear or are appointed, notice thereof shall be served immediately on the adverse party and filed with the court.

If it were true that respondent did not agree to represent the appellants in CA-G.R. CV No. 65019, why did he not file with the Court of Appeals a motion to withdraw as their counsel? Obviously, his negligence, which resulted in the dismissal of the appeal, caused prejudice to his clients. Likewise, respondent's failure to inform complainant of the status of his mother's appeal is inexcusable.

It bears stressing that the lawyer-client relationship is one of trust and confidence. Thus, there is a need for the client to be adequately and fully informed about the developments in his case.5 A client should never be left groping in the dark, for to do so would be to destroy the trust, faith, and confidence reposed in the lawyer so retained in particular and the legal profession in general.

Respondent violated Canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provide:

"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.

Canon 18 - A lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence.

Rule 18.03 - A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.

Rule 18.04 - A lawyer shall keep the client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to his client's request for information."

Diligence is "the attention and care required of a person in a given situation and is the opposite of negligence."6 A lawyer serves his client with diligence by adopting that norm of practice expected of men of good intentions. He thus owes entire devotion to the interest of his client, warm zeal in the defense and maintenance of his rights, and the exertion of his utmost learning, skill, and ability to ensure that nothing shall be taken or withheld from him, save by the rules of law legally applied.7 It is axiomatic in the practice of law that the price of success is eternal diligence to the cause of the client.

The practice of law does not require extraordinary diligence (exactissima diligentia) or that "extreme measure of care and caution which persons of unusual prudence and circumspection use for securing and preserving their rights."8 All that is required is ordinary diligence (diligentia) or that degree of vigilance expected of a bonus pater familias. Yet, even by this lesser standard, respondent's failure to attend to his client's appeal is clearly wanting.

In People v. Cawili,9 we held that the failure of counsel to submit the brief within the reglementary period is an offense that entails disciplinary action. People v. Villar, Jr.10 characterized a lawyer's failure to file a brief for his client as inexcusable neglect. In Blaza v. Court of Appeals,11 we held that the filing of a brief within the period set by law is a duty not only to the client, but also to the court. Perla Compania de Seguros, Inc. v. Saquilaban 12 reiterated Ford v. Daitol13 and In re: Santiago F. Marcos14 in holding that an attorney's failure to file brief for his client constitutes inexcusable negligence.

In cases involving a lawyer's failure to file a brief or other pleading before an appellate court, we did not hesitate to suspend the erring member of the Bar from the practice of law for three months,15 six months,16 or even disbarment in severely aggravated cases.17

Accordingly and considering the circumstances of this case, we find a need to scale the recommended penalty upward. Here, we are convinced that respondent deserves the penalty of suspension for three (3) months.

WHEREFORE, ATTY. ROBERTO FERRER, JR. is hereby found guilty of professional misconduct and neglect of duty. He is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) months with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or a similar offense shall be dealt with more severely. He is further DIRECTED to return immediately to the complainant the amount of P2,000.00.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and all courts throughout the country.

SO ORDERED.

Panganiban, (Chairman), Corona, Carpio-Morales, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 1-2.

2 Id. at 57-59.

3 Id. at 71.

4 See supra note 4.

5 Alcala v. De Vera, A.C. No. 620, March 21, 1974, 56 SCRA 30.

6 Black's Law Dictionary (6th Ed. 1991) 457.

7 In re Tionko, 43 Phil. 191 (1922) citing In re Filart, 40 Phil. 205 (1919).

8 Black's Law Dictionary, supra.

9 G.R. No. 30543, August 31, 1970, 34 SCRA 728.

10 G.R. No. 34092, July 29, 1972, 46 SCRA 107.

11 G.R. No. 31630, June 23, 1988, 162 SCRA 461.

12 A.C. No. 3907, April 10, 1997, 271 SCRA 109.

13 A.C. No. 3736, November 16, 1995, 250 SCRA 7.

14 A.C. No. 922, December 29, 1987, 156 SCRA 844.

15 See for instance, Ford v. Daitol, supra and In re: Santiago F. Marcos, supra.

16 See Guiang v. Antonio, A.C. No. 2473, February 3, 1993, 218 SCRA 381.

17 See Mariveles v. Mallari, A.C. No. 3294, February 17, 1993, 219 SCRA 44.

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