Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lawyer disbarred: multiple violations.

In the case of CONRADO QUE vs. ATTY. ANASTACIO REVILLA, JR., Per Curiam, En Banc, A.C. No. 7054, December 4, 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court disbarred from the practice of law for professional misconduct for violations of the Lawyer’s Oath; Canon 8; Rules 10.01 and 10.03, Canon 10; Rules 12.02 and 12.04, Canon 12; Rule 19.01, Canon 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility; and Sections 20(d), 21 and 27 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.

In a complaint for disbarment, Conrado Que (complainant) accused Atty. Anastacio Revilla, Jr. (respondent) before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Committee on Bar Discipline (IBP Committee on Bar Discipline or CBD) of committing the following violations of the provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rule 138 of the Rules of Court:

(1) The respondent’s abuse of court remedies and processes by filing a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals (CA), two petitions for annulment of title before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), a petition for annulment of judgment before the RTC and lastly, a petition for declaratory relief before the RTC (collectively, subject cases) to assail and overturn the final judgments of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) and RTC in the unlawful detainer case rendered against the respondent’s clients. The respondent in this regard, repeatedly raised the issue of lack of jurisdiction by the MeTC and RTC knowing fully-well that these courts have jurisdiction over the unlawful detainer case. The respondent also repeatedly attacked the complainant’s and his siblings’ titles over the property subject of the unlawful detainer case;

(2) The respondent’s commission of forum-shopping by filing the subject cases in order to impede, obstruct, and frustrate the efficient administration of justice for his own personal gain and to defeat the right of the complainant and his siblings to execute the MeTC and RTC judgments in the unlawful detainer case;

(3) The respondent’s lack of candor and respect towards his adversary and the courts by resorting to falsehood and deception to misguide, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice. The respondent asserted falsehood in the motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of the petition for annulment of judgment by fabricating an imaginary order issued by the presiding judge in open court which allegedly denied the motion to dismiss filed by the respondents in the said case. The complainant alleged that the respondent did this to cover up his lack of preparation; the respondent also deceived his clients (who were all squatters) in supporting the above falsehood.

(4) The respondent’s willful and revolting falsehood that unjustly maligned and defamed the good name and reputation of the late Atty. Alfredo Catolico (Atty. Catolico), the previous counsel of the respondent’s clients.

(5) The respondent’s deliberate, fraudulent and unauthorized appearances in court in the petition for annulment of judgment for 15 litigants, three of whom are already deceased;

(6) The respondent’s willful and fraudulent appearance in the second petition for annulment of title as counsel for the Republic of the Philippines without being authorized to do so.

Additionally, the complaint accused the respondent of representing fifty-two (52) litigants in Civil Case No. Q-03-48762 when no such authority was ever given to him.

The CBD required the respondent to answer the complaint.

Except for the last charge of unauthorized appearance on behalf of 52 litigants in Civil Case No. Q-03-48762, Investigating Commissioner Renato G. Cunanan (Investigating Commissioner Cunanan) found all the charges against the respondent meritorious. In his Report and Recommendation, he stated:

While an attorney admittedly has the solemn duty to defend and protect the cause and rights of his client with all the fervor and energy within his command, yet, it is equally true that it is the primary duty of the lawyer to defend the dignity, authority and majesty of the law and the courts which enforce it. A lawyer is not at liberty to maintain and defend the cause of his clients thru means, inconsistent with truth and honor. He may not and must not encourage multiplicity of suits or brazenly engage in forum-shopping.

The case posed to the Supreme Court core issues of whether the respondent can be held liable for the imputed unethical infractions and professional misconduct, and the penalty these transgressions should carry.

The Court took take judicial notice that this disbarment complaint is not the only one so far filed involving the respondent; another complaint invoking similar grounds has previously been filed. In Plus Builders, Inc. and Edgardo C. Garcia v. Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr. , the Court suspended the respondent from the practice of law for his willful and intentional falsehood before the court; for misuse of court procedures and processes to delay the execution of a judgment; and for collaborating with non-lawyers in the illegal practice of law.

First, the respondent filed a petition for certiorari (docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 53892) with prayer for the issuance of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to question the final judgments of the MeTC and RTC for lack of jurisdiction. In dismissing the respondent’s petition, the CA held:

Even for the sake of argument considering that the petition case be the proper remedy, still it must be rejected for failure of petitioners to satisfactorily demonstrate lack of jurisdiction on the part of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City over the ejectment case.

Second, notwithstanding the CA’s dismissal of the petition for certiorari, the respondent again questioned the MeTC’s and the RTC’s lack of jurisdiction over the unlawful detainer case in a petition for annulment of judgment (docketed as Civil Case No. Q-01-45556) before the RTC with an ancillary prayer for the grant of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The RTC dismissed this petition on the basis of the motion to dismiss filed.

Third, the respondent successively filed two petitions (docketed as Civil Case No. Q-99-38780 and Civil Case No. Q-02-46885) for annulment of the complainant’s title to the property involved in the unlawful detainer case. The records show that these petitions were both dismissed “for lack of legal personality on the part of the plaintiffs” to file the petition.

Fourth, after the dismissals of the petition for annulment of judgment and the petitions for annulment of title, the respondent this time filed a petition for declaratory relief with prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction to enjoin the complainant and his siblings from exercising their rights over the same property subject of the unlawful detainer case. The respondent based the petition on the alleged nullity of the complainant’s title because the property is a part of forest land.

Fifth, the persistent applications by the respondent for injunctive relief in the four petitions he had filed in several courts – the petition for certiorari, the petition for annulment of judgment, the second petition for annulment of complainant’s title and the petition for declaratory relief – reveal the respondent’s persistence in preventing and avoiding the execution of the final decisions of the MeTC and RTC against his clients in the unlawful detainer case.

Under the circumstances, the respondent’s repeated attempts go beyond the legitimate means allowed by professional ethical rules in defending the interests of his client. These are already uncalled for measures to avoid the enforcement of final judgments of the MeTC and RTC. In these attempts, the respondent violated Rule 10.03, Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which makes it obligatory for a lawyer to “observe the rules of procedure and. . . not [to] misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.” By his actions, the respondent used procedural rules to thwart and obstruct the speedy and efficient administration of justice, resulting in prejudice to the winning parties in that case.

The Court added that the respondent likewise violated Rule 12.02 and Rule 12.04, Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as the rule against forum shopping, both of which are directed against the filing of multiple actions to attain the same objective. Both violations constitute abuse of court processes; they tend to degrade the administration of justice; wreak havoc on orderly judicial procedure; and add to the congestion of the heavily burdened dockets of the courts.

It stated that while the filing of a petition for certiorari to question the lower courts’ jurisdiction may be a procedurally legitimate (but substantively erroneous) move, the respondent’s subsequent petitions involving the same property and the same parties not only demonstrate his attempts to secure favorable ruling using different fora, but his obvious objective as well of preventing the execution of the MeTC and RTC decisions in the unlawful detainer case against his clients. This intent is most obvious with respect to the petitions for annulment of judgment and declaratory relief, both geared towards preventing the execution of the unlawful detainer decision, long after this decision had become final.

The records also revealed that the respondent committed willful,
intentional and deliberate falsehood in the pleadings he filed with the lower courts.

First, in the petition for annulment of judgment filed before the RTC, Branch 101, Quezon City, the respondent cited extrinsic fraud as one of the grounds for the annulment sought. The extrinsic fraud was alleged in the last paragraph of the petition, as follows:

In here, counsel for the petitioners (defendants therein), deliberately neglected to file the proper remedy then available after receipt of the denial of their Motion for Reconsideration … thus corruptly sold out the interest of the petitioners (defendants therein) by keeping them away to the Court and in complete ignorance of the suit by a false pretense of compromise and fraudulent acts of alleging representing them when in truth and in fact, have connived with the attorney of the prevailing party at his defeat to the prejudice of the petitioner (defendants therein) …

Yet, in paragraph 35 of the same petition, the respondent alleged that no second motion for reconsideration or for new trial, or no other petition with the CA had been filed, as he believed “that the decisions rendered both by the MeTC and the RTC are null and void.” These conflicting claims, no doubt, involve a fabrication made for the purpose of supporting the petition for annulment. Worse, it involved a direct and unsubstantiated attack on the reputation of a law office colleague, another violation we shall separately discuss below.

Second, the respondent employed another obvious subterfuge when he filed his second petition for annulment of title, which was an unsuccessful attempt to circumvent the rule that only the Solicitor General may commence reversion proceedings of public lands on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines. This second petition, filed by a private party and not by the Republic, showed that: (a) the respondent and his clients requested that they be represented by the Solicitor General in the proceedings; (b) the Republic of the Philippines was simply impleaded in the amended petition without its consent as a plaintiff; and (c) the respondent signed the amended petition where he alone stood as counsel for the “plaintiffs.” In this underhanded manner, the respondent sought to compel the Republic to litigate and waste its resources on an unauthorized and unwanted suit.

Third, the respondent also committed falsehood in his motion for reconsideration of the order dismissing his petition for annulment of judgment where he misrepresented to the court and his clients what actually transpired in the hearing of June 28, 2002 in this wise:

Likewise, the proceedings on said date of hearing (June 28, 2002) show, that after both counsel have argued on the aforesaid pending incident, the Honorable Presiding Judge, in open court, and in the presence and within the hearing distance of all the plaintiffs and their counsel as well as the counsel of the defendants resolved: TO DENY THE MOTION TO DISMISS FILED AND DIRECTED DEFENDANTS COUNSEL TO FILE AN ANSWER TO THE COMPLAINT WITHIN THE REMAINING PERIOD. [Underscoring and emphasis theirs]

The records, however, disclose that the scheduled hearing for June 28, 2002 was actually for the respondent’s application for temporary restraining order and was not a hearing on the adverse party’s motion to dismiss. The records also show that RTC-Branch 101 held in abeyance the respondent’s application for injunctive relief pending the resolution of the motion to dismiss filed by the adverse party. As stated in the order of the Presiding Judge of RTC-Branch 101:

Browsing over the records of this case specifically the transcripts of stenographic notes as transcribed by the Stenographer, the same will indicate that the allegations in the Motion for Reconsideration are not true.

… how can this Court make a ruling on the matter even without stating the factual and legal bases as required/mandated by the Rules. Moreover, there are no indications or iota of irregularity in the preparation by Stenographer of the transcripts, and by the Court interpreter of the Minutes of the open Court session.[Underscoring theirs]

The records further disclose that despite knowledge of the falsity of his allegations, the respondent took advantage of his position and the trust reposed in him by his clients (who are all squatters) to convince them to support, through their affidavits, his false claims on what allegedly transpired in the June 28, 2002 hearing.

The Court found the respondent liable under Rule 10.01 of Canon 10 the Code of Professional Responsibility for violating the lawyer’s duty to observe candor and fairness in his dealings with the court. This provision states:


Rule 10.01 – A lawyer shall not do any falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in Court, nor shall he mislead or allow the Court to be mislead by an artifice.

Likewise, the respondent violated his duty as an attorney and his oath as a lawyer “never to mislead the judge or any judicial officer by an artifice or false statement of fact or law.” The respondent failed to remember that his duty as an officer of the court makes him an indispensable participant in the administration of justice, and that he is expected to act candidly, fairly and truthfully in his work. His duty as a lawyer obligates him not to conceal the truth from the court, or to mislead the court in any manner, no matter how demanding his duties to his clients may be. In case of conflict, his duties to his client yield to his duty to deal candidly with the court.

In defending his clients’ interest, the respondent also failed to observe Rule 19.01, Canon 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which reads:


Rule 19.01 – A lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his clients x x x

This Canon obligates a lawyer, in defending his client, to employ only such means as are consistent with truth and honor. He should not prosecute patently frivolous and meritless appeals or institute clearly groundless actions. The recital of what the respondent did to prevent the execution of the judgment against his clients shows that he actually committed what the above rule expressly prohibits.

The Court added that “good faith connotes an honest intention to abstain from taking unconscientious advantage of another. Accordingly, in University of the East v. Jader we said that "[g]ood faith connotes an honest intention to abstain from taking undue advantage of another, even though the forms and technicalities of law, together with the absence of all information or belief of facts, would render the transaction unconscientious." Bad faith, on the other hand, is a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or with some motive of self-interest, ill will or for an ulterior purpose. As both concepts are states of mind, they may be deduced from the attendant circumstances and, more particularly, from the acts and statements of the person whose state of mind is the subject of inquiry.

In this case, the Court found that the respondent acted in bad faith in defending the interests of his clients. It drew this conclusion from the misrepresentations and the dubious recourses he made, all obviously geared towards forestalling the execution of the final judgments of the MeTC and RTC. That he took advantage of his legal knowledge and experience and misread the Rules immeasurably strengthen the presence of bad faith.

The Court added that 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 rights, as well as the exertion 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 in 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’; and that he ‘will conduct [himself] as a lawyer according to the best of [his] knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to [his] clients.’ 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 Court further stated that the sui generis nature of a disbarment case renders the underlying motives of the complainants unimportant and with very little relevance. The purpose of a disbarment proceeding is mainly to determine the fitness of a lawyer to continue acting as an officer of the court and a participant in the dispensation of justice – an issue where the complainant’s personal motives have little relevance. For this reason, disbarment proceedings may be initiated by the Court motu proprio upon information of an alleged wrongdoing. As we also explained in the case In re: Almacen:

. . .disciplinary proceedings like the present are sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, this proceeding is not - and does not involve - a trial of an action or a suit, but is rather an investigation by the Court into the conduct of one of its officers. Not being intended to inflict punishment, it is in no sense a criminal prosecution.

x x x

It may be initiated by the Court motu proprio. Public interest is its primary objective, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges as such. Hence, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of-the Court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney. In such posture, there can thus be no occasion to speak of a complainant or a prosecutor.

Hence, we give little or no weight to the alleged personal motivation that drove the complainant Que and his counsel to file the present disbarment case.

In fine, the Court said that given the respondent’s multiple violations, his past record as previously discussed, and the nature of these violations which shows the readiness to disregard court rules and to gloss over concerns for the orderly administration of justice, we believe and so hold that the appropriate action of this Court is to disbar the respondent to keep him away from the law profession and from any significant role in the administration of justice which he has disgraced. He is a continuing risk, too, to the public that the legal profession serves. Not even his ardor and overzealousness in defending the interests of his client can save him. Such traits at the expense of everything else, particularly the integrity of the profession and the orderly administration of justice, this Court cannot accept nor tolerate.