- Ong v. Unto
- A.C. No. 2417
- PUNO, J :
- Decision Date
A.C. No. 2417. February 6, 2002.
ALEX ONG, complainant, vs. ATTY. ELPIDIO D. UNTO, respondent.
In this Administrative case, the Supreme Court held that while a lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client, he must do so only within the bounds of the law. In this case, he has not exercised good faith because he tried to coerce the complainant to comply with his letter-demand by threatening to file various charges against the latter. When complainant did not heed his warning, he maliciously filed a string of criminal and administrative cases which did not have a bearing to the cause of his client, in violation of Canon 19, and he offered monetary rewards to anyone who could provide him any information against the complainant so he would have a leverage in his actions against the latter. Respondent was found guilty of conduct unbecoming of a lawyer and was suspended from the practice of law for a period of five months.
1. LEGAL AND JUDICIAL ETHICS; CODE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY; CANON 19 THEREOF; DUTY OF LAWYER TO REPRESENT CLIENT WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF LAW; CASE AT BAR, A VIOLATION OF. The relevant rule to the case at bar is Canon 19 of the
2. ID.; ID.; CANONS 1 AND 2 THEREOF; ENCOURAGING A SUIT FOR CORRUPT MOTIVE OR PRIMARILY TO SOLICIT LEGAL BUSINESS, A VIOLATION OF. The records show that the respondent offered monetary rewards to anyone who could provide him any information against the complainant just so he would have a leverage in his actions against the latter. His tactic is unethical and runs counter to the
D E C I S I O N
PUNO, J p:
This is a disbarment case filed by Alex Ong, a businessman from Dumaguete City, against Atty. Elpidio D. Unto, for malpractice of law and conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.
The Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-Pasig City) found Atty. Unto guilty of malpractice and recommended the penalty of one-month suspension from the practice of law or, at the very least, a severe reprimand against him.
First, we look at the antecedent facts. The records show that the complainant received a demand-letter from the respondent, in the latter's capacity as legal counsel of one Nemesia Garganian. The full text of respondent's letter reads:
"Dear Mr. Ong:
This is in connection with the claim of support of Miss Nemesia Garganian (my client) from you for your only child, Anson Garganian, with her (Miss Nemesia Garganian) and other claims which Miss Garganian is demanding from you. It is now about two months that you have abandoned your legal and moral obligations to support your only child with her (Miss Nemesia Garganian) and up to this moment you have not given said financial support.
I am doing this as a preliminary basis to a possible amicable settlement, if you desire so, so that you will not be dragged unnecessarily to a court proceeding in connection with your legal and moral obligations to your son with Miss Garganian.
May I advise you that within three (3) days from your receipt of this letter, you should return to her house her television and betamax which you got from her house during her absence and without her knowledge and consent. Your failure to comply with this demand, this office will be constrained to file the proper action in court against you.
I hope within three (3) days from your receipt of this letter you may come to my Law Office at the above address or you may send your lawyer and/or representative to discuss with me about the preliminary matters in connection with all the claims of Miss Garganian against you.
I hope that you will not fail us, so that we can thresh out this matter smoothly, otherwise your intentional failure or refusal to discuss these claims amicably with our office might be construed as your absolute refusal really.
Expecting you then.
Very truly yours,
ATTY. ELPIDIO D. UNTO
Counsel for Miss Nemesia Garganian
WITH MY CONSENT:
A few days thereafter, the respondent wrote a letter addressed to Dr. Jose Bueno (Agaw), an emissary of the complainant. In this letter, the respondent listed down the alleged additional financial demands of Ms. Garganian against the complainant and discussed the courses of action that he would take against the complainant should the latter fail to comply with his obligation to support Ms. Garganian and her son. The relevant portion of the respondent's second letter reads:
"These are the demands which my client would want to be complied (with):
1. P1,500.00 monthly For the sustenance of Mr. Ong's son. . . . (Note: That this amount of P1,500.00 should be up to the completion of Mr. Ong's son in the elementary course and this is subject to adjustment when the son is already in the secondary course or up to his college course).
2. P50,000.00 This amount should be given to Miss Garganian as her starting capital for her planned business venture to give her a source of her living since she cannot anymore be a teacher in any government position because of her status, having a child without being lawfully wedded. . . .
3. The TV and the Betamax should be returned and delivered to the house of Miss Garganian, without the presence of Mr. Alex Ong . . .
4. The amount of P5,000.00 as my attorney's fees should be given or paid to me tomorrow before noon in my Law Office, through my cousin, Dr. Jose Bueno.
Criminal, civil and administrative actions that I am contemplating to file against Mr. Alex Ong will be withheld pending the compliance by Mr. Ong of these compromise agreements.
Gaw, if not of (sic) your representation I believe that one week time as grace period for Mr. Ong is too long a time.
Thank you very much.
Very truly yours,
ATTY. ELPIDIO D. UNTO
Counsel for Miss Nemesia Garganian"
It was alleged that the real father of Ms. Garganian's son was the complainant's brother and that the complainant merely assumed his brother's obligation to appease Ms. Garganian who was threatening to sue them. The complainant then did not comply with the demands against him.
Consequently, the respondent filed a complaint with the Office of the City Fiscal (now Prosecutor's Office) of Dumaguete City against the complainant, his wife, Bella Lim, and one Albina Ong, for alleged violation of the
The next day, the respondent filed another criminal complaint against the complainant, Lim, Ong and Adela Peralta for their alleged violation of the
In addition, the respondent commenced administrative cases against the complainant before the Bureau of Domestic Trade, the Commission on Immigration and Deportation, and the Office of the Solicitor General. According to the complainant, these cases were subsequently denied due course and dismissed by the aforesaid government agencies.
The foregoing prompted the complainant to file the present case for disbarment. Essentially, the complainant alleged that the respondent "manufactured" the criminal and administrative cases against him to blackmail him or extort money from him. He claimed that the respondent solicited for any information that could be used against him in the aforementioned cases by offering any informer or would-be witness a certain percentage of whatever amounts they could get from him. The complainant branded the respondent's tactics as "highly immoral, unprofessional and unethical, constituting . . . malpractice of law and conduct gravely unbecoming of a lawyer."
In support of his accusations, the complainant submitted the following documents: (1) the afore-quoted letters of the respondent addressed to the complainant and Dr. Bueno; (2) Nemesia Garganian's affidavit where she denied any knowledge regarding the demands listed in the letter addressed to Dr. Bueno; (3) an unsigned affidavit allegedly prepared by the respondent for the complainant, wherein the latter was acknowledging that he sired Ms. Ganganian's son illegitimate child; (4) the criminal complaints filed against the complainant for alleged violation of the citing several cases previously filed against the respondent by other parties.
The records show that the respondent was directed to submit his comment on the complaint lodged against him. He did not file any. Subsequently, the case was endorsed to the Office of the Solicitor General for investigation, report and recommendation. In turn, the OSG forwarded the records of the case to the Office of the Provincial Fiscal of Negros Oriental, authorizing said office to conduct the investigation.
It appears that the respondent did not appear before the investigating officer, then Provincial Fiscal Jacinto Bautista, to answer the charges against him. Instead, he moved for postponement. After denying the respondent's third request for postponement, Fiscal Bautista proceeded with the reception of the complainant's evidence. The respondent was duly notified of the on-going investigation but he did not show up. When it was the respondent's turn to present evidence, notices of the preliminary investigation were sent to his home address in Valenzuela, Negros Oriental, his law office in Dumaguete City and his last known address in Quezon City. The return cards showed that he could not be located, although his wife received some of the notices sent to his home in Dumaguete.
Meanwhile, the case was transferred from one investigating officer to another, with some of them inhibiting from the investigation. Finally, the case was assigned to 2nd Asst. Provincial Prosecutor Cristino Pinili. Atty. Pinili deemed the respondent's absence as waiver of his right to present his evidence. Finding merit in the complainant's cause, the investigator recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one month, or, at the very least, be severly reprimanded.
The records of the case were endorsed to the Office of the Solicitor General. Thereafter, the OSG transmitted the records to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Manila, "for proper disposition, conformably with adopted policies and procedures." The IBP's Commission on Bar Discipline adopted Atty. Pinili's report and recommendation in toto.
We affirm with modification.
The complainant seeks the disbarment of the respondent. Thus, it is meet to revisit the importance of the legal profession and the purpose of the disbarment as aptly discussed in . We then held:
"In resolving this disbarment case, (w)e must initially emphasize the degree of integrity and respectability attached to the law profession. There is no denying that the profession of an attorney is required after a long and laborious study. By years of patience, zeal and ability, the attorney acquires a fixed means of support for himself and his family. This is not to say, however, that the emphasis is on the pecuniary value of this profession but rather on the social prestige and intellectual standing necessarily arising from and attached to the same by reason of the fact that every attorney is deemed an officer of the court.
The importance of the dual aspects of the legal profession has been wisely put by Chief Justice Marshall of the United States Court when he said:
'On one hand, the profession of an Atty. is of great importance to an individual and the prosperity of his life may depend on its exercise.
The right to exercise it ought not to be lightly or capriciously taken from him. On the other hand, it is extremely desirable that the respectability of the Bar should be maintained and that its harmony with the bench should be preserved. For these objects, some controlling power, some discretion ought to be exercised with great moderation and judgment, but it must be exercised.'
The purpose of disbarment, therefore, is not meant as a punishment depriving him of a source of livelihood but is rather intended to protect the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this function should be competent, honorable and reliable in order that the courts and clients may rightly repose confidence in them."
The relevant rule to the case at bar is Canon 19 of the It mandates lawyers to represent their clients with zeal but within the bounds of the law. Rule 19.01 further commands that "a lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his client and shall not present, participate or threaten to present unfounded criminal charges to obtain an improper advantage in any case or proceeding."
Considering the facts of this case, we find that respondent has not exercised the good faith required of a lawyer in handling the legal affairs of his client. It is evident from the records that he tried to coerce the complainant to comply with his letter-demand by threatening to file various charges against the latter. When the complainant did not heed his warning, he made good his threat and filed a string of criminal and administrative cases against the complainant. We find the respondent's action to be malicious as the cases he instituted against the complainant did not have any bearing or connection to the cause of his client, Ms. Garganian. Clearly, the respondent has violated the proscription in Canon 19, Rule 19.01. His behavior is inexcusable.
The records show that the respondent offered monetary rewards to anyone who could provide him any information against the complainant just so he would have a leverage in his actions against the latter. His tactic is unethical and runs counter to the and he shall not do any act designed primarily to solicit legal business. In the case of , we held:
"While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his genuine interest, and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his right, as well as the exercise of his utmost learning and ability, he must do so only within the bounds of the law. He must give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of his client's case with the end view of promoting respect for the law and legal processes, and counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law. He must always remind himself of the oath he took upon admission to the Bar that "he will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same"; . . . Needless to state, the lawyer's fidelity to his client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and the administration of justice, and it must be done within the bounds of reason and common sense. A lawyer's responsibility to protect and advance the interests of his client does not warrant a course of action propelled by ill motives and malicious intentions against the other party."
The ethics of the legal profession rightly enjoin lawyers to act with the highest standards of truthfulness, fair play and nobility in the course of his practice of law. A lawyer may be disciplined or suspended for any misconduct, whether in his professional or private capacity. Public confidence in law and lawyers may be eroded by the irresponsible and improper conduct of a member of the Bar. Thus, every lawyer should act and comport himself in such a manner that would promote public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession.
Finally, we note that during the investigation of the case, despite being duly notified thereof as evidenced by the motions for postponement he filed on several occasions, the respondent chose not to participate in the proceedings against him. His nonchalance does not speak well of him as it reflects his utter lack of respect towards the public officers who were assigned to investigate the case. He should be watchful of his conduct. The respondent should keep in mind the solemn oath he took before this Court when he sought admission to the bar. The lawyer's oath should not be reduced to mere recital of empty words for each word aims to promote the high standard of professional integrity befitting a true officer of the court.
The recommended penalty for the unprofessional conduct of the respondent was one (1) month suspension or reprimand. We believe that the same is too light vis-a-vis the misconduct of the respondent.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, respondent ATTY. ELPIDIO D. UNTO is hereby declared guilty of conduct unbecoming of a lawyer. He is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of five (5) months and sternly warned that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this Decision be attached to Atty. Unto's personal record in the Office of the Bar Confidant and a copy thereof be furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). ECcTaS
Davide, Jr., C.J., Kapunan, Pardo and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.
1. Rollo, pp. 7-9.
2. Id., p. 49.
3. Id., p. 10.
4. Id., pp. 11-12.
5. Id., p. 15.
6. Id., pp. 22-24.
7. Id., pp. 20-24.
8. Id., pp. 27-41.
9. Id., p. 20.
10. Folder No. VII, p. 10.
11. Id., p. 9.
12. Rollo, p. 49.
13. 125 SCRA 293, 297-298 (1983).
14. Promulgated by the Supreme Court on June 21, 1988.
16. Id., Canon 2, Rule 2.03.
17. 260 SCRA 477 (1996).
18. 337 SCRA 622, 628 (2000).
19. Id., p. 629.
20. , 139 SCRA 529 (1985).
21. See Rule 138, Section 3,