Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reinstatement to the Bar of a disbarred lawyer; when allowed.

"x x x.
Membership in the Bar is a privilege burdened with conditions.20 It is not a natural, absolute or constitutional right granted to everyone who demands it, but rather, a special privilege granted and continued only to those who demonstrate special fitness inintellectual attainment and in moral character.21 The same reasoning applies to reinstatement of a disbarred lawyer. When exercising its inherent power to grant reinstatement, the Court should see to it that only those who establish their present moral fitness and knowledge of the law will be readmitted to the Bar. Thus, though the doors to the practice of law are never permanently closed on a disbarred attorney, the Court owes a duty to the legal profession as well as to the general public to ensure that if the doors are opened,it is done so only as a matter of justice.22

The basic inquiry in a petition for reinstatementto the practice of law is whether the lawyer has sufficiently rehabilitated himself or herself in conduct and character.23 Whether the applicant shall be reinstated in the Roll of Attorneys rests to a great extent on the sound discretion of the Court.24 The lawyer has to demonstrate and prove by clear and convincing evidence that he or she is again worthy of membership in the Bar. The Court will take into consideration his or her character and standing prior to the disbarment, the nature and character of the charge/s for which he or she was disbarred, his or her conduct subsequent to the disbarment, and the time that has elapsed in between the disbarment and the application for reinstatement.25

In the present case, we note that before his admission to the Bar, the respondent had demonstrated an active involvement and participation in community and church activities by joining Youth For Christ, Catechism, and Bible Study and Sharing. Likewise, upon admission to the Bar, the respondent worked as Municipal Attorney in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque rendering free legal assistance to his townmates who were inneed of legal service. Thereafter, the respondentwas appointed as a Municipal Administrator and had continued extending assistance to the indigent residents.

The respondent also actively engaged and participated in various community projects, through the Marinduque Jaycees, where he served as President from 1980 to 1981, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Marinduque Chapter, where he served as a member, Director, and President from 1982 to 1987.

In his present appeal for judicial clemency, the respondent acknowledged his indiscretions and claimed to have taken full responsibility for his misdemeanor. Unlike in his previous petitions/appeal for judicial clemency, the respondent no longerquestioned the Court’s decision. According to him, he has long expressed deep remorse and genuine repentance.

The respondent also claimed that the long period of his disbarment gave him sufficient time to reflect on his professional conduct, to show remorse and repentance, and to realize the gravity of his mistakes. After his disbarment, the respondent continued lending assistance, and deviated his time and effort in pursuing civic and religious work that significantly contributed to his character reformation.He professed that during his almost five (5) years of disbarment, he has been an active member of the Couples for Christ, Marriage Encounter, and Knights of Columbus; and through his affiliations with these groups, he had served in the ecclesial affairs in his parish as an Extraordinary Minister for Holy Communion and a lecturer on Legal Aspect of Marriage Pre-Cana and Marriage Preparation Seminar at the Parish Church of St. Peter in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

Although the Court believes that the respondent is not inherently lacking in moral fiber as shown by his conduct prior to his disbarment, we are not convinced that he had sufficiently achieved moral reformation.

In Rodolfo M. Bernardo v. Atty. Ismael F. Mejia,26 the Court, in deciding whether or not to reinstate Atty. Mejia, considered that 15 years had already elapsed from the time hewas disbarred, which gave him sufficient time to acknowledge his infractions and to repent. The Court also took into account the fact that Atty. Mejiais already of advanced years, has long repented, and suffered enough. The Court also notedthat he had made a significant contribution by putting up the Mejia Law Journal containing his religious and social writings; and the religious organization named "El Cristo Movement and Crusade on Miracle of the Heart and Mind." Furthermore, the Court considered that Atty. Mejia committed no other transgressions since he was disbarred.

Similarly in Adez Realty, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,27 the Court granted the reinstatement of 
the disbarred lawyer (found to be guilty of intercalating a material fact in a CA decision) and considered the period of three (3) years as sufficient time to do soul-searching and to prove that he is worthy to practice law. In that case, the Court took into consideration the disbarred lawyer’s sincere admission of guilt and repeated pleas for compassion.

Also in Valencia v. Antiniw,28 the Court reinstated Atty. Antiniw (who was found guilty of malpractice in falsifying a notarized deed of sale and subsequently introducing the document in court) after considering the long period of his disbarment (almost 15 years). 

The Court considered that during Atty. Antiniw’s disbarment, he has been persistent in reiterating his apologies to the Court, has engaged in humanitarian and civic services, and retained an unblemished record as an elected public servant, as shown by the testimonials of the numerous civic and professional organizations, government institutions, and members of the judiciary.

In all these cases, the Court considered the conduct of the disbarred attorney before and after his disbarment, the time that had elapsed from the disbarment and the application for reinstatement, and more importantly, the disbarred attorneys’ sincere realization and acknowledgement of guilt.

In the present case, we are not fully convinced that the passage of more than four (4) years is sufficient to enable the respondent to reflect and to realize his professional transgressions.

We emphasize that this is the second time that the respondent was accused and was found guilty of gross misconduct. The respondent, in an earlier case of Plus Builders, Inc. v. Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla,Jr.,29was likewise found guilty of gross misconduct for committing willful and intentional falsehood before the court; misusing court procedure and processes to delay the execution of a judgment; and collaborating with nonlawyers in the illegal practice of law – mostly the same grounds on which the Decision dated December 4, 2009 (2nd disbarment) was based. In Plus Builders, we granted the respondent’s motion for reconsideration and reduced the penalty of suspension from the practice of law from two (2) years to six (6) months out of compassion to the respondent.

Considering the respondent’s earlier disbarment case(and subsequent reduction of the penalty imposed as an act of clemency), and another disbarment case against him still pending review by the Court, we are not fully and convincingly satisfied that the respondent has already reformed. The period of five (5) years is likewise not considerably long considering the nature and perversityof the respondent’s misdeeds. We believe that it is still early for the Court to consider the respondent’s reinstatement.

Furthermore, we are not persuaded by the respondent's sincerity in acknowledging his guilt.While he  expressly stated in his appeal that he had taken full responsibility of his misdemeanor, his previous inclination to pass the blame to other individuals, to invoke self-denial, and to make alibis for his wrongdoings, contradicted his assertion. The respondent also failed to submit proof satisfactorily showing his contrition. He failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he is again worthy of membership in the legal profession. We thus entertain serious doubts that the respondent had completely reformed.

As a final word, while the Court sympathizes with the respondent's unfortunate physical condition, we stress that in considering his application for reinstatement to the practice of law, the duty of the Court is to determine whether he has established moral reformation and rehabilitation, disregarding its feeling of sympathy or pity. Surely at this point, this requirement was not met. Until such time when the respondent can demonstrate to the Court that he has completely rehabilitated himself and deserves to resume his membership in the Bar, Our decision to disbar him from the practice of law stands.

x x x."

Read - 
A.C. No.7054, November 11, 2014
CONRADO N. QUE, Complainant, 
vs. ATTY. ANASTACIO E. REVILLA, JR., Respondent.