SC Disbars Dishonest, Deceitful Lawyer

August 6, 2021

The Supreme Court has disbarred a lawyer who not only duped a client of P2 million to buy back an ancestral house, but also repeatedly failed to comply with the Court’s directives.

Respondent Atty. Nini D. Cruz deceived complainant Gracita P. Domingo-Agaton into issuing a manager’s check in the amount of P2 million to reacquire the latter’s ancestral home in Olongapo City. Complainant alleged that she did not get back her money and her ancestral house because Cruz misappropriated the said manager’s check to settle the obligation of a client in another case.

In a per curiam Decision, the Court En Banc disbarred Cruz and ordered her name stricken from the Roll of Attorneys for “having clearly violated her Lawyer’s Oath and the Canons of Professional Responsibility through her dishonest, deceitful and fraudulent conduct.” Cruz was also ordered to refund complainant Domingo-Agaton the P2 million plus 6% interest per annum from October 12, 2015, until full payment

The Court held: “Respondent’s established deplorable conduct exhibited her unfitness and sheer inability to discharge the bounden duties of a member of the legal profession. Her dishonest, deceitful and fraudulent conduct…evinces a serious flaw in her moral fiber justifying the extreme penalty of disbarment.”

Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility states that “a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral, or deceitful conduct. Section 27, Rule 238 of the Rules of Court imposes the penalty of disbarment or suspension for deceitful and dishonest acts.

Domingo-Agaton filed a disbarment complaint before the Office of the Bar Confidant against Cruz for Grave Misconduct, constitutive of qualified theft, estafa, and betrayal of trust, defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code.

The Court lamented that “(a)fter the disbarment case was filed, respondent repeatedly failed to file her comment despite due notice.”

In 2016, the Court issued a resolution requiring Cruz to comment on the complaint. In 2019, the Court issued another resolution requiring Cruz to “show cause” why she should not be disciplinarily dealt with for failure to comply with the 2016 resolution. Finally, on February 24, 2020, the Court issued another resolution dispensing with respondent’s comment, and considered the case submitted for resolution on the basis of the pleadings and attached documents.

Cruz, however, repeatedly failed to comply to with the Court’s

directive and the subsequent resolutions it had issued.

The Court noted that Cruz, “for reasons only known to her, respondent has opted to remain silent despite serious charges.”

In 2013, complainant engaged the services of Cruz for the reacquisition of an ancestral home located in West Bajac-bajac, Olongapo City, which was foreclosed by the Philippine National Bank. The Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 72 of Olongapo City rendered a decision pertaining to the property. Complainant told Cruz that she had personally negotiated with PNB for the repurchase of the property, which however was already sold to a third person. Cruz then proposed to buy back the property from PNB and drafted and signed a Letter of Intent for the repurchase of the property from PNB for P2.5M.

Cruz later informed complainant that PNB refused their offer but told her that the property was not yet sold and assured her, upon the supposed advice of the PNB, that they had a good chance of buying it back by filing a petition for consignation with the RTC.

After giving P100,000 as filing fee and P50,000 as professional fee, Cruz filed a Complaint for judicial consignation with the said RTC. Upon Cruz’s instructions, complaint purchased a manager’s check and issued a check worth P2M with the RTC as payee. When complainant went to the RTC to deposit the manager’s check, she was informed by Cruz that the personnel authorized to receive the check was not around. Cruz then volunteered to personally deliver the check to the RTC, saying “(a)lam mo naman Manager’s Check yan, wala naman akong magagawa diyan, hindi ko naman kayang i-cash yan, ang payee ay Regional Trial Court. Ako na ang magbigay sa court para makabalik ka na sa work mo.”

When Cruz failed to produce the copy of the RTC’s acknowledgement receipt of the P2M after several months, complainant began to suspect that something was amiss. She verified with the RTC that her consignation complaint was dismissed for violation of the rule against forum shopping. Complainant also learned that the manager’s check she issued was cleared and deposited to the RTC’s account, but was withdrawn by a certain Josephine Chua, a party to another civil case with Josephine Lim as plaintiff, and who was also represented by Cruz.

The Court found “the totality of evidence submitted by complainant has clearly, satisfactorily, and convincingly shown that respondent has authored deplorable acts.”

It stressed that Cruz was dishonest when she concealed that the consignation complaint was already dismissed by the RTC. Consistent with her dishonest acts, Cruz also defrauded complainant by misappropriating her manager’s check as settlement for the obligation of another client in another case. In so doing, she likewise deceived the RTC into believing that the complainant’s manager’s check was issued for a civil case, to which she was not a party. (A.C. No. 11023, Domingo-Agaton v. Atty. Cruz, May 4, 2021)