MADRIA V. RIVERA

Posted: April 12, 2017 in case digests, legal ethics, PALE, Uncategorized
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MADRIA V. RIVERA

AC No. 11256 | March 7, 2017

By: Karen P. Lustica

 

FACTS:

 

Complainant Flordeliza A. Madria consulted the respondent to inquire about the process of annulling her marriage with her husband, Juan C. Madria. After giving the details of her marriage and other facts relevant to the annulment, the respondent told her that she had a strong case, and guaranteed that he could obtain for her the decree of annulment. He told her, too, that his legal services would cost P25,000.00.

 

The complainant returned to the respondent’s office. Respondent showed her the petition for annulment, and asked her to sign it. She paid to him an initial amount of P4,000.00. He acknowledged the payment through a handwritten receipt.

 

The complainant again went to the respondent’s office to deliver another partial payment, and to follow up on the case. The respondent advised her to just wait for the resolution of her complaint, and assured her that she did not need to appear in court. He explained that all the court notices and processes would be sent to his office, and that he would regularly apprise her of the developments. She returned to his office to complete her payment, and he also issued his receipt for the payment.

 

The complainant’s daughter Vanessa thereafter made several follow- ups on behalf of her mother. The respondent informed the complainant that her petition had been granted. Thus, Vanessa went to the respondent’s office and received a copy of the trial court’s decision signed by Judge Lyliha Abella Aquino.

 

According to the complainant, the respondent advised her to allow five months to lapse after the release of the decision before she could safely claim the status of “single.” After the lapse of such time, she declared in her Voter’s Registration Record (VRR) that she was single.

 

The complainant, again through Vanessa, received from the respondent a copy of the certificate of finality dated September 26, 2003 signed by one Jacinto C. Danao.

 

Believing that the documents were authentic, the complainant used the purported decision and certificate of finality in applying for the renewal of her passport. However, she became the object of an investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) because her former partner, Andrew Dowson Grainge, had filed a complaint charging that she had fabricated the decision for the annulment of her marriage.

 

Only then did she learn that the decision and the certificate of finality given by the respondent did not exist in the court records, as borne out by the letter signed by Atty. Aura Clarissa B. Tabag- Querubin, Clerk of Court of the RTC Branch IV, to wit – As per records of this Court, the above- entitled case was filed on April 25, 2003 but was dismissed as per Order of this Court dated April 6, 2004. The signature of the [sic] Judge Lyliha Abella Aquino as appearing in the alleged decision attached to your letter is a blatant forgery.

 

As a result, the complainant faced criminal charges for violation of the Philippine Passport Act. She claims that she had relied in good faith on the representations of the respondent; and that he had taken advantage of his position in convincing her to part with her money and to rely on the falsified court documents.

 

The respondent denies the allegations of the complainant. He averred that he had informed her that he would still be carefully reviewing the grounds to support her petition; that she had insisted that he should prepare the draft of her petition that she could show to her foreigner fiance; that she had also prevailed upon him to simulate the court decision to the effect that her marriage had been annulled, and to fabricate the certificate of finality; that she had assured him that such simulated documents would be kept strictly confidential; that he had informed her that the petition had been filed in April 2003, but she had paid no attention to such information; that she had not appeared in any of the scheduled hearings despite notice; and that he had not heard from her since then, and that she had not even returned to his office.

 

IBP concluded that the respondent had violated his Lawyer’s Oath; and recommended his suspension from the practice of law for a period of two years. The IBP Board of Governors modified it to disbarment.

 

ISSUE:

 

WON ATTY. RIVERA should be disbarred

 

HELD:

 

YES.

 

RATIO:

 

The respondent acknowledged authorship of the petition for annulment of marriage, and of the simulation of the decision and certificate of finality. His explanation of having done so only upon the complainant’s persistent prodding did not exculpate him from responsibility. For one, the explanation is unacceptable, if not altogether empty. Simulating or participating in the simulation of a court decision and a certificate of finality of the same decision is an outright criminal falsification or forgery. One need not be a lawyer to know so, but it was worse in the respondent’s case because he was a lawyer. Thus, his acts were legally intolerable. Specifically, his deliberate falsification of the court decision and the certificate of finality of the decision reflected a high degree of moral turpitude on his part, and made a mockery of the administration of justice in this country. He thereby became unworthy of continuing as a member of the Bar.

 

The respondent directly contravened the letter and spirit of Rules 1.01 and 1.02, Canon 1, and Rule 15.07, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, to wit:

 

CANON 1 – A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW OF AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

 

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

 

Rule 1.02 – A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system.

 

x x x x

 

CANON 15 – A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS.

 

Rule 15.07. – A lawyer shall impress upon his client compliance with the laws and the principles of fairness.

 

Surely, too, he could not have soon forgotten his express undertaking under his Lawyer’s Oath to “do no falsehood, nor consent to its commission,” Indeed; the ethics of the Legal Profession rightly enjoined every lawyer like him to act with the highest standards of truthfulness, fair play and nobility in the course of his practice of law.

 

Also, Canon 15 and Rule 18.04 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility required the respondent be true to the complainant as his client. By choosing to ignore his fiduciary responsibility for the sake of getting her money, he committed a further violation of his Lawyer’s Oath by which he swore not to “delay any man’s cause for money or malice,” and to “conduct [him]self 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.” He compounded this violation by taking advantage of his legal knowledge to promote his own selfish motives, thereby disregarding his responsibility under Canon 17.

 

Under Section 27,23 Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, a lawyer may be disbarred on any of the following grounds, namely: (1) deceit; (2) malpractice; (3) gross misconduct in office; (4) grossly immoral conduct; (5) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (6) violation of the lawyers oath; (7) willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court; and (8) corruptly or willfully appearing as a lawyer for a party to a case without authority so to do.

 

Falsifying or simulating the court papers amounted to deceit, malpractice or misconduct in office, any of which was already a ground sufficient for disbarment under Section 27, Rule 38 of the Rules of Court.

 

We note that the respondent was previously sanctioned for unprofessional conduct. In Cruz- Villanueva v. Rivera he was suspended from the practice of law because he had notarized documents without a notarial commission. This circumstance shows his predisposition to beguile other persons into believing in the documents that he had falsified or simulated. It is time to put a stop to such proclivity. He should be quickly removed through disbarment.

 

It is true that the power to disbar is always exercised with great caution and only for the most imperative reasons or in cases of clear misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar. But we do not hesitate when the misconduct is gross, like in the respondent’s case.

 

DISPOSITION: DISBARMENT

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