Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lawyer disbarred for dishonesty and deceit in dealing with client's property. - A.C. No. 7481

A.C. No. 7481

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The Court's Ruling

          After a punctilious examination of the records, the Court concurs with the findings and recommendation of Commissioner De Mesa and the IBP Board of Governors that respondent acted with deceit when, through the use of a falsified document, he effected the unauthorized mortgage and sale of his client's property for his personal benefit. 

          Indisputably, respondent disposed of complainant's property without his knowledge or consent, and partook of the proceeds of the sale for his own benefit.  His contention that he merely accommodated the request of his then financially-incapacitated office assistants to confirm the spurious SPA is flimsy and implausible, as he was fully aware that complainant's signature reflected thereon was forged.  As aptly opined by Commissioner De Mesa, the fraudulent transactions involving the subject property were effected using the owner's duplicate title, which was in respondent's safekeeping and custody during complainant's absence.  

          Consequently, Commissioner De Mesa and the IBP Board of Governors correctly recommended his disbarment for violations of the pertinent provisions of the Canons of Professional Responsibility, to wit:

Canon 1 – A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.

Canon 1.01 – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

Canon 16 – A lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client which may come into his possession.

Canon 16.01 – A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from client.

Canon 16.03 – A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand.

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.

          In Sabayle v. Tandayag,[11] the Court disbarred one of the respondent lawyers and ordered his name stricken from the Roll of Attorneys on the grounds of serious dishonesty and professional misconduct.  The respondent lawyer knowingly participated in a false and simulated transaction not only by notarizing a spurious Deed of Sale, but also – and even worse – sharing in the profits of the specious transaction by acquiring half of the property subject of the Deed of Sale.

          In Flores v. Chua,[12] the Court disbarred the respondent lawyer for having deliberately made false representations that the vendor appeared personally before him when he notarized a forged deed of sale.  He was found guilty of grave misconduct.

          In this case, respondent's established acts exhibited his unfitness and plain inability to discharge the bounden duties of a member of the legal profession. He failed to prove himself worthy of the privilege to practice law and to live up to the exacting standards demanded of the members of the bar.  It bears to stress that “[t]he practice of law is a privilege given to lawyers who meet the high standards of legal proficiency and morality.  Any violation of these standards exposes the lawyer to administrative liability.”[13]

          Moreover, respondent's argument that there was no formal lawyer-client relationship between him and complainant will not serve to mitigate his liability. There is no distinction as to whether the transgression is committed in a lawyer's private or professional capacity, for a lawyer may not divide his personality as an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at another.[14]

          With the foregoing disquisitions, the Court thus finds the penalty of disbarment proper in this case, as recommended by Commissioner De Mesa and the IBP Board of Governors.  Section 27, Rule 38 of the Rules of Court provides:

     “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, xxx or for any violation of the oathwhich he is required to take before admission to practice xxx” (emphasis supplied)

          The Court notes that in administrative proceedings, only substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, is required.[15]  Having carefully scrutinized the records of this case, the Court therefore finds that the standard of substantial evidence has been more than satisfied.

          WHEREFORE, respondent ATTY. RAMON U. CONTAWI, having clearly violated his lawyer's oath and the Canons of Professional Responsibility through his unlawful, dishonest and deceitful conduct, is  DISBARRED and his name orderedSTRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys.

Let copies of this Decision be served on the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and all courts in the country for their information and guidance. Let a copy of this Decision be attached to respondent's personal record as attorney.


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