Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

EN BANC

 

 

CLARITA J. SAMALA,

Complainant,

ADM. CASE NO. 5439

 

 

Present:

 

 

 

 

 

PUNO, C.J.,

 

 

QUISUMBING,

 

 

YNARES-SANTIAGO,

 

 

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ,

 

 

CARPIO,

 

 

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,

- versus -

 

CORONA,

 

 

CARPIO MORALES,

 

 

CALLEJO, SR.,

AZCUNA,

 

 

TINGA,

 

 

CHICO-NAZARIO,

 

 

GARCIA, and

VELASCO, JR., JJ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTY. LUCIANO D. VALENCIA,

 

 

Promulgated:

Respondent.

 

_______________________

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

 

 

R E S O L U T I O N

 

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.

 

Before us is a complaint[1] dated May 2, 2001 filed by Clarita J. Samala (complainant) against Atty. Luciano D. Valencia (respondent) for Disbarment on the following grounds: (a) serving on two separate occasions as counsel for contending parties; (b) knowingly misleading the court by submitting false documentary evidence; (c) initiating numerous cases in exchange for nonpayment of rental fees; and (d) having a reputation of being immoral by siring illegitimate children.

 

After respondent filed his Comment, the Court, in its Resolution of October 24, 2001, referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.[2]

 

The investigation was conducted by Commissioner Demaree Jesus B. Raval. After a series of hearings, the parties filed their respective memoranda[3] and the case was deemed submitted for resolution.

 

Commissioner Wilfredo E.J.E. Reyes prepared the Report and Recommendation[4] dated January 12, 2006. He found respondent guilty of violating Canons 15 and 21 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and recommended the penalty of suspension for six months.

 

In a minute Resolution[5] passed on May 26, 2006, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the report and recommendation of Commissioner Reyes but increased the penalty of suspension from six months to one year.

 

We adopt the report of the IBP Board of Governors except as to the issue on immorality and as to the recommended penalty.

 

 

 

On serving as counsel for contending parties.

 

Records show that in Civil Case No. 95-105-MK, filed in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 272, Marikina City, entitled Leonora M. Aville v. Editha Valdez for nonpayment of rentals, herein respondent, while being the counsel for defendant Valdez, also acted as counsel for the tenants Lagmay, Valencia, Bustamante and Bayuga[6] by filing an Explanation and Compliance before the RTC.[7]

 

In Civil Case No. 98-6804 filed in the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC), Branch 75, Marikina City, entitled Editha S. Valdez and Joseph J. Alba, Jr. v. Salve Bustamante and her husband for ejectment, respondent represented Valdez against Bustamante one of the tenants in the property subject of the controversy. Defendants appealed to the RTC, Branch 272, Marikina City docketed as SCA Case No. 99-341-MK. In his decision dated May 2, 2000,[8] Presiding Judge Reuben P. dela Cruz[9] warned respondent to refrain from repeating the act of being counsel of record of both parties in Civil Case No. 95-105-MK.

 

But in Civil Case No. 2000-657-MK, filed in the RTC, Branch 273, Marikina City, entitled Editha S. Valdez v. Joseph J. Alba, Jr. and Register of Deeds of Marikina City, respondent, as counsel for Valdez, filed a Complaint for Rescission of Contract with Damages and Cancellation of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 275500 against Alba, respondent's former client in Civil Case No. 98-6804 and SCA Case No. 99-341-MK.

 

Records further reveal that at the hearing of November 14, 2003, respondent admitted that in Civil Case No. 95-105-MK, he was the lawyer for Lagmay (one of the tenants) but not for Bustamante and Bayuga[10] albeit he filed the Explanation and Compliance for and in behalf of the tenants.[11] Respondent also admitted that he represented Valdez in Civil Case No. 98-6804 and SCA Case No. 99-341-MK against Bustamante and her husband but denied being the counsel for Alba although the case is entitled Valdez and Alba v. Bustamante and her husband, because Valdez told him to include Alba as the two were the owners of the property[12] and it was only Valdez who signed the complaint for ejectment.[13] But, while claiming that respondent did not represent Alba, respondent, however, avers that he already severed his representation for Alba when the latter charged respondent with estafa.[14] Thus, the filing of Civil Case No. 2000-657-MK against Alba.

 

Rule 15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.

 

A lawyer may not, without being guilty of professional misconduct, act as counsel for a person whose interest conflicts with that of his present or former client.[15] He may not also undertake to discharge conflicting duties any more than he may represent antagonistic interests. This stern rule is founded on the principles of public policy and good taste.[16] It springs from the relation of attorney and client which is one of trust and confidence. Lawyers are expected not only to keep inviolate the clients confidence, but also to avoid the appearance of treachery and double-dealing for only then can litigants be encouraged to entrust their secrets to their lawyers, which is of paramount importance in the administration of justice.[17]

One of the tests of inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation would prevent the full discharge of the lawyers duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to the client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double-dealing in the performance of that duty.[18]

 

The stern rule against representation of conflicting interests is founded on principles of public policy and good taste. It springs from the attorneys duty to represent his client with undivided fidelity and to maintain inviolate the clients confidence as well as from the injunction forbidding the examination of an attorney as to any of the privileged communications of his client.[19]

 

An attorney owes loyalty to his client not only in the case in which he has represented him but also after the relation of attorney and client has terminated.[20] The bare attorney-client relationship with a client precludes an attorney from accepting professional employment from the clients adversary either in the same case[21] or in a different but related action.[22] A lawyer is forbidden from representing a subsequent client against a former client when the subject matter of the present controversy is related, directly or indirectly, to the subject matter of the previous litigation in which he appeared for the former client.[23]

 

We held in Nombrado v. Hernandez[24] that the termination of the relation of attorney and client provides no justification for a lawyer to represent an interest adverse to or in conflict with that of the former client. The reason for the rule is that the clients confidence once reposed cannot be divested by the expiration of the professional employment.[25] Consequently, a lawyer should not, even after the severance of the relation with his client, do anything which will injuriously affect his former client in any matter in which he previously represented him nor should he disclose or use any of the clients confidences acquired in the previous relation.[26]

 

In this case, respondents averment that his relationship with Alba has long been severed by the act of the latter of not turning over the proceeds collected in Civil Case No. 98-6804, in connivance with the complainant, is unavailing. Termination of the attorney-client relationship precludes an attorney from representing a new client whose interest is adverse to his former client. Alba may not be his original client but the fact that he filed a case entitled Valdez and Alba v. Bustamante and her husband, is a clear indication that respondent is protecting the interests of both Valdez and Alba in the said case. Respondent cannot just claim that the lawyer-client relationship between him and Alba has long been severed without observing Section 26, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court wherein the written consent of his client is required.

 

In Gonzales v. Cabucana, Jr.,[27] citing the case of Quiambao v. Bamba,[28] we held that:

 

The proscription against representation of conflicting interests applies to a situation where the opposing parties are present clients in the same action or in an unrelated action. It is of no moment that the lawyer would not be called upon to contend for one client that which the lawyer has to oppose for the other client, or that there would be no occasion to use the confidential information acquired from one to the disadvantage of the other as the two actions are wholly unrelated. It is enough that the opposing parties in one case, one of whom would lose the suit, are present clients and the nature or conditions of the lawyers respective retainers with each of them would affect the performance of the duty of undivided fidelity to both clients.[29]

 

 

 

Respondent is bound to comply with Canon 21 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states that a lawyer shall preserve the confidences and secrets of his client even after the attorney-client relation is terminated.

 

The reason for the prohibition is found in the relation of attorney and client, which is one of trust and confidence of the highest degree. A lawyer becomes familiar with all the facts connected with his clients case. He learns from his client the weak points of the action as well as the strong ones. Such knowledge must be considered sacred and guarded with care.[30]

 

From the foregoing, it is evident that respondents representation of Valdez and Alba against Bustamante and her husband, in one case, and Valdez against Alba, in another case, is a clear case of conflict of interests which merits a corresponding sanction from this Court. Respondent may have withdrawn his representation in Civil Case No. 95-105-MK upon being warned by the court,[31] but the same will not exculpate him from the charge of representing conflicting interests in his representation in Civil Case No. 2000-657-MK.

 

Respondent is reminded to be more cautious in accepting professional employments, to refrain from all appearances and acts of impropriety including circumstances indicating conflict of interests, and to behave at all times with circumspection and dedication befitting a member of the Bar, especially observing candor, fairness and loyalty in all transactions with his clients.[32]

 

 

 

 

On knowingly misleading the court by submitting false documentary evidence.

 

Complainant alleges that in Civil Case No. 00-7137 filed before MTC, Branch 75 for ejectment, respondent submitted TCT No. 273020 as evidence of Valdez's ownership despite the fact that a new TCT No. 275500 was already issued in the name of Alba on February 2, 1995.

 

Records reveal that respondent filed Civil Case No. 00-7137 on November 27, 2000 and presented TCT No. 273020 as evidence of Valdez's ownership of the subject property.[33] During the hearing before Commissioner Raval, respondent avers that when the Answer was filed in the said case, that was the time that he came to know that the title was already in the name of Alba; so that when the court dismissed the complaint, he did not do anything anymore.[34] Respondent further avers that Valdez did not tell him the truth and things were revealed to him only when the case for rescission was filed in 2002.

 

Upon examination of the record, it was noted that Civil Case No. 2000-657-MK for rescission of contract and cancellation of TCT No. 275500 was also filed on November 27, 2000,[35] before RTC, Branch 273, Marikina City, thus belying the averment of respondent that he came to know of Alba's title only in 2002 when the case for rescission was filed. It was revealed during the hearing before Commissioner Raval that Civil Case Nos. 00-7137 and 2000-657-MK were filed on the same date, although in different courts and at different times.

 

Hence, respondent cannot feign ignorance of the fact that the title he submitted was already cancelled in lieu of a new title issued in the name of Alba in 1995 yet, as proof of the latter's ownership.

 

Respondent failed to comply with Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides that 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 any artifice. It matters not that the trial court was not misled by respondent's submission of TCT No. 273020 in the name of Valdez, as shown by its decision dated January 8, 2002[36] dismissing the complaint for ejectment. What is decisive in this case is respondent's intent in trying to mislead the court by presenting TCT No. 273020 despite the fact that said title was already cancelled and a new one, TCT No. 275500, was already issued in the name of Alba.

 

In Young v. Batuegas,[37] we held that a lawyer must be a disciple of truth. He swore upon his admission to the Bar that he will do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court and he shall 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.[38] He should bear in mind that as an officer of the court his high vocation is to correctly inform the court upon the law and the facts of the case and to aid it in doing justice and arriving at correct conclusion.[39] The courts, on the other hand, are entitled to expect only complete honesty from lawyers appearing and pleading before them. While a lawyer has the solemn duty to defend his clients rights and is expected to display the utmost zeal in defense of his clients cause, his conduct must never be at the expense of truth.

 

A lawyer is the servant of the law and belongs to a profession to which society has entrusted the administration of law and the dispensation of justice.[40] As such, he should make himself more an exemplar for others to emulate.[41]

 

On initiating numerous cases in exchange for nonpayment of rental fees.

 

Complainant alleges that respondent filed the following cases: (a) Civil Case No. 2000-657-MK at the RTC, Branch 272; (b) Civil Case No. 00-7137 at the MTC, Branch 75; and (c) I.S. Nos. 00-4439 and 01-036162 both entitled Valencia v. Samala for estafa and grave coercion, respectively, before the Marikina City Prosecutor. Complainant claims that the two criminal cases were filed in retaliation for the cases she filed against Lagmay docketed as I.S. No. 00-4306 for estafa and I.S. No. 00-4318 against Alvin Valencia (son of respondent) for trespass to dwelling.

 

As culled from the records, Valdez entered into a retainer agreement with respondent. As payment for his services, he was allowed to occupy the property for free and utilize the same as his office pursuant to their retainer agreement.[42]

 

Respondent filed I.S. Nos. 00-4439[43] and 01-036162[44] both entitled Valencia v. Samala for estafa and grave coercion, respectively, to protect his client's rights against complainant who filed I.S. No. 00-4306[45] for estafa against Lagmay, and I.S. No. 00-4318[46] against Alvin Valencia[47] for trespass to dwelling.

 

 

 

We find the charge to be without sufficient basis. The act of respondent of filing the aforecited cases to protect the interest of his client, on one hand, and his own interest, on the other, cannot be made the basis of an administrative charge unless it can be clearly shown that the same was being done to abuse judicial processes to commit injustice.

 

The filing of an administrative case against respondent for protecting the interest of his client and his own right would be putting a burden on a practicing lawyer who is obligated to defend and prosecute the right of his client.

 

On having a reputation for being immoral by siring illegitimate children.

 

We find respondent liable for being immoral by siring illegitimate children.

 

During the hearing, respondent admitted that he sired three children by Teresita Lagmay who are all over 20 years of age,[48] while his first wife was still alive. He also admitted that he has eight children by his first wife, the youngest of whom is over 20 years of age, and after his wife died in 1997, he married Lagmay in 1998.[49] Respondent further admitted that Lagmay was staying in one of the apartments being claimed by complainant. However, he does not consider his affair with Lagmay as a relationship[50] and does not consider the latter as his second family.[51] He reasoned that he was not staying with Lagmay because he has two houses, one in Muntinlupa and another in Marikina.[52]

 

 

In this case, the admissions made by respondent are more than enough to hold him liable on the charge of immorality. During the hearing, respondent did not show any remorse. He even justified his transgression by saying that he does not have any relationship with Lagmay and despite the fact that he sired three children by the latter, he does not consider them as his second family. It is noted that during the hearing, respondent boasts in telling the commissioner that he has two houses - in Muntinlupa, where his first wife lived, and in Marikina, where Lagmay lives.[53] It is of no moment that respondent eventually married Lagmay after the death of his first wife. The fact still remains that respondent did not live up to the exacting standard of morality and decorum required of the legal profession.

 

Under Canon 1, Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. It may be difficult to specify the degree of moral delinquency that may qualify an act as immoral, yet, for purposes of disciplining a lawyer, immoral conduct has been defined as that conduct which is willful, flagrant, or shameless, and which shows a moral indifference to the opinion of respectable members of the community.[54] Thus, in several cases, the Court did not hesitate to discipline a lawyer for keeping a mistress in defiance of the mores and sense of morality of the community.[55] That respondent subsequently married Lagmay in 1998 after the death of his wife and that this is his first infraction as regards immorality serve to mitigate his liability.

 

ACCORDINGLY, the Court finds respondent Atty. Luciano D. Valencia GUILTY of misconduct and violation of Canons 21, 10 and 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) years, effective immediately upon receipt of herein Resolution.

 

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished all courts of the land, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines as well as the Office of the Bar Confidant for their information and guidance, and let it be entered in respondents personal records.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

 

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING

Associate Justice

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ

Associate Justice

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Associate Justice

CONCHITA CARPIO-MORALES

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.

Associate Justice

ADOLFO S. AZCUNA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

DANTE O. TINGA

Associate Justice

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

CANCIO C. GARCIA

Associate Justice

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Rollo, pp. 1-4.

[2] Id. at 106.

[3] Id. at 118-125; 129-134.

[4] Id. at 569-579.

[5] Id. at 568.

[6] Id. at 411-417.

[7] Id. at 5-7.

[8] Id. at 11-13.

[9] Now Assistant Court Administrator.

[10] Rollo, pp. 397-398; 407-410.

[11] Id. at 11-13.

[12] Id. at 439.

[13] Id. at 441.

[14] Id. at 434.

[15] Frias v. Lozada, A.C. No. 6656, December 13, 2005, 477 SCRA 393, 400.

[16] Agpalo, Legal Ethics, 6th Edition, pp. 219, 225; citing cases.

[17] Hilado v. David, 84 Phil. 569, 579 (1949).

[18] Santos, Sr. v. Beltran, 463 Phil. 372, 383 (2003).

[19] Tiania v. Ocampo, A.C. No. 2285, August 12, 1991, 200 SCRA 472, 479.

[20] Lorenzana Food Corporation v. Daria, Adm. Case No. 2736, May 27, 1991, 197 SCRA 428, 435; Buted v. Hernando, Adm. Case No. 1359, October 17, 1991, 203 SCRA 1, 8.

[21] Natan v. Capule, 91 Phil. 640, 648 (1952).

[22] Nombrado v. Hernandez, 135 Phil. 5, 9 (1968).

[23] Pormento, Sr. v. Pontevedra, A.C. No. 5128, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 167, 177-178.

[24] Nombrado v. Hernandez, supra.

[25] Natan v. Capule, supra at 648.

[26] Ibid. at 648.

[27] A.C. No. 6836, January 23, 2006, 479 SCRA 320.

[28] A.C. No. 6708, August 25, 2005, 468 SCRA 1.

[29] Id. at 11.

[30] Maturan v. Gonzales, 350 Phil. 882, 887 (1998); U.S. v. Laranja, 21 Phil. 500, 510 (1912).

[31] Rollo, pp. 423-427.

[32] Gamilla v. Mario, Jr., 447 Phil. 419, 432 (2003).

[33] Rollo, pp. 30-32.

[34] Id. at 459-474.

[35] Id. at 14-16; 471-473.

[36] Id. at 127-128.

[37] 451 Phil. 155 (2003).

[38] Id. at 161.

[39] Ibid. at 161.

[40] Ting-Dumali v. Torres, A.C. No. 5161, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 108, 117.

[41] Ibid. at 117.

[42] Rollo, p. 485.

[43] Id. at 144-146.

[44] Id. at 100.

[45] Id. at 41-43.

[46] Id. at 44-45.

[47] Son of respondent and one of the tenants in the subject property.

[48] Rollo, pp. 514-515.

[49] Id. at 517-519.

[50] Id. at 521.

[51] Id. at 524.

[52] Id. at 520-524.

[53] Id. at 520-521.

[54] Rau Sheng Mao v. Velasco, 459 Phil. 440, 445 (2003).

[55] Mendoza v. Mala, A.C. No. 1129, July 27, 1992, 211 SCRA 839, 841; Vda. de Mijares v. Villaluz, A.C. No. 4431, June 19, 1997, 274 SCRA 1, 6; Paras v. Paras, 397 Phil. 462, 475 (2000); Cambaliza v. Cristal-Tenorio, A.C. No. 6290, July 14, 2004, 434 SCRA 288, 294; Go v. Achas, MTJ-04-1564, March 11, 2005, 453 SCRA 189, 201; Zaguirre v. Castillo, A.C. No. 4921, August 3, 2005, 465 SCRA 520, 530.