Republic of the
ATTY. RICARDO M. A.C. No. 7820
QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson,
- versus - TINGA,
VELASCO, JR., and
Respondent. September 12, 2008
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
his sworn complaint filed
before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on
instant complaint has its beginning in the case, Lucy Lo v. Ricardo Salomon et al., docketed as Civil Case No.
05-111825 before the Regional Trial Court in
to Atty. Salomon, the attaching sheriff of
As to the Volvo, Atty. Salomon averred that during mediation, Atty. Frial deliberately withheld information as to its whereabouts. As it turned out later, the Volvo was totally destroyed by fire, but the court was not immediately put on notice of this development.
his Answer, Atty.
Frial admitted taking custody of the cars thru his own undertaking, without
authority and knowledge of the court. The subject vehicles, according to him, were
first parked near the YMCA building in front of the
During the mandatory conference/hearing before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, the parties agreed on the following key issues to be resolved: (1) whether or not Atty. Frial used the cars for his personal benefit; and (2) whether or not Atty. Frial was guilty of infidelity in the custody of the attached properties.
and after the submission by the parties of their respective position papers,
the Commission submitted a Report dated
In the same Report, the Commission observed that while there is perhaps no direct evidence tying up Atty. Frial with the use of the Nissan Sentra, the unyielding fact remains that it was being used by other persons during the time he was supposed to have custody of it. In addition, whoever drove the Nissan Sentra on those occasions must have received the car key from Atty. Frial. When Atty. Frial took custody of the Nissan Sentra and Volvo cars, he was duty bound to keep and preserve these in the same condition he received them so as to fetch a good price should the vehicles be auctioned.
to the burnt Volvo, Atty. Frial admitted receiving it in excellent condition
and that there was no court order authorizing him to remove the car from the
YMCA premises. Admitted too was the fact that he secured the release of the
Volvo on the strength alone of his own written undertaking; and that the car was almost totally destroyed
by fire on
The destruction of the Volvo in Atty. Frials residence was not an ordinary occurrence; it was an event that could have not easily escaped his attention. Accordingly, there is a strong reason to believe that Atty. Frial deliberately concealed the destruction of said vehicle from the court during the hearings in Civil Case No. 05-111828, which were the opportune times to reveal the condition of the Volvo car.
On the basis of the foregoing premises, the Commission concluded that Atty. Frial committed acts clearly bearing on his integrity as a lawyer, adding that he failed to observe the diligence required of him as custodian of the cars. The Commission thus recommended that Atty. Frial be suspended from the practice of law for one (1) year.
The findings and the recommendation of the Commission are well-taken.
A writ of attachment issues to prevent the defendant from disposing of the attached property, thus securing the satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered by the plaintiff or any proper party. When the objects of the attachment are destroyed, then the attached properties would necessarily be of no value and the attachment would be for naught.
From the evidence adduced during the investigation, there is no question that Atty. Frial is guilty of grave misconduct arising from his violation of Canon 11 of the Canons of Professional Ethics that states:
11. Dealing with trust property
The lawyer should refrain from any action whereby for his personal benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client.
Money of the client or collected for the client or other trust property coming into the possession of the lawyer should be reported and accounted for promptly and should not under any circumstances be commingled with his own or be used by him. (Emphasis ours.)
A lawyer is first and foremost an officer of the court. As such, he is expected to respect the courts order and processes. Atty. Frial miserably fell short of his duties as such officer. He trifled with the writ of attachment the court issued.
Very patently, Atty. Frial was remiss in his obligation of taking good care of the attached cars. He also allowed the use of the Nissan Sentra car by persons who had no business using it. He did not inform the court or at least the sheriff of the destruction of the Volvo car. What is worse is that he took custody of them without so much as informing the court, let alone securing, its authority.
For his negligence and unauthorized possession of the cars, we find Atty. Frial guilty of infidelity in the custody of the attached cars and grave misconduct. We must mention, at this juncture, that the victorious parties in the case are not without legal recourse in recovering the Volvos value from Atty. Frial should they desire to do so.
The Court, nevertheless, is not inclined to impose, as complainant urges, the ultimate penalty of disbarment. The rule is that disbarment is meted out only in clear cases of misconduct that seriously affect the standing and moral character of a lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar. With the view we take of the case, there is no compelling evidence tending to show that Atty. Frial intended to pervert the administration of justice for some dishonest purpose.
Disbarment, jurisprudence teaches, should not be decreed where any punishment less severe, such as reprimand, suspension, or fine, would accomplish the end desired. This is as it should be considering the consequence of disbarment on the economic life and honor of the erring person. In the case of Atty. Frial, the Court finds that a years suspension from the practice of his legal profession will provide him with enough time to ponder on and cleanse himself of his misconduct.
WHEREFORE, Atty. Joselito C. Frial is adjudged guilty of grave misconduct and infidelity in the custody of properties in custodia legis. He is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year effective upon his receipt of this Decision. Let notice of this Decision be entered in his personal record as an attorney with the Office of the Bar Confidant and notice of the same served on the IBP and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts concerned.
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice Associate Justice
ARTURO D. BRION
v. Pastoral, G.R. No. 81120,
 Saquing v. Mora, A.C. No. 6678, October 9, 2006, 504 SCRA 1, 7; Bantolo v. Castillon, Jr., A.C. No. 6589, December 19, 2005, 478 SCRA 443, 449.
 Saquing, supra.