MONARES vs. MUÑOZ

Posted: April 12, 2017 in case digests, legal ethics, PALE, Uncategorized
Tags:

MONARES vs. MUÑOZ

A.C. No. 5582 | January 24, 2017

By: Karen P. Lustica

 

FACTS:

Arthur O. Monares is the plaintiff in a civil case filed against Ludolfo Muñoz (Ludolfo) before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Legazpi City. In his complaint, Monares alleged that Atty. Levi P. Muñoz represented his brother Ludolfo in the said case during regular government hours while employed as Provincial Legal Officer of Albay City.

Under the chairmanship of Atty. Oliver 0.Olaybal, ALECO’s old board of directors (BOD) engaged Muñoz as retained counsel sometime in June 1998. Olaybal averred that Muñoz did not inform ALECO’s old BOD that he was employed as Provincial Legal Officer at such time. Olaybal raised that after its administrator, the National Electrification Administration (NEA), deactivated the old BOD on the ground of mismanagement, Muñoz served as retained counsel of the NEA-appointed team which took over the management of ALECO. Moreover, Olaybal alleged that Muñoz illegally collected payments in the form of notarial and professional fees in excess of what was agreed upon in their retainer agreement.

Constante is the Executive Assistant for Legal Affairs of Sunwest Construction and Development Corporation (Sunwest). Constante claimed that Muñoz filed ten (10) cases against Sunwest on Ludolfo’s behalf before the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) while he was serving as Provincial Legal Officer.

All three (3) complaints prayed that Muñoz be disbarred for unlawfully engaging in private practice. In addition, Olaybal sought Muñoz’s disbarment for acts of disloyalty, particularly, for violating the rule against conflict of interest.

To support their position, the complainants raised that Muñoz had been previously disciplined by the Ombudsman and was convicted by the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) in two criminal cases for violation of Section 7(b)(2) in relation to Section 11 of Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

Muñoz claimed that he had requested Governor Al Francis C. Bichara for authority to continue his private practice shortly after his appointment. This request was granted. Thereafter, Muñoz submitted the same request to Rafael C. Alunan III, then Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Acting Secretary Alexander P. Aguirre granted Muñoz’s request, under the following conditions:

  1. That no government time, personnel, funds or supplies shall be utilized in connection (sic) and that no conflict of interest with your present position as Provincial Legal Officer shall arise thereby;chanrobleslaw
  2. That the time so devoted outside of office hours, the place(s) and under what circumstances you can engage in private employment shall be fixed by the Governor of Albay to the end that it will not impair in any way your efficiency; and

Pursuant to the DILG’s authorization, Governor Bichara imposed the following conditions upon Muñoz:

  1. [Y]ou cannot handle cases against the Province of Albay;chanrobleslaw
  2. [Y]ou will be on call and you will have no fix (sic) working hours provided that the efficiency of the Provincial Legal Office shall not be prejudiced;chanrobleslaw

IBP Report and on automatic review – Commissioner Aguila recommended that Muñoz be found guilty of gross misconduct and violation of Rules 1.01, 6.02, 15.01 and 15.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR). The penalty of suspension from the practice of law for an aggregate period of four (4) years was recommended.

In his Appeal, Muñoz, insisted that when he served as Provincial Legal Officer from June 1995 to May 2002, he engaged in private practice pursuant to the three (3) written authorities issued by Governor Bichara, and the written authority of the DILG issued during his first term, which he claims had never been revoked. Muñoz also argued that no conflict of interest existed between ALECO’s old BOD and the NEA management team, since he was engaged as retained counsel of ALECO as an institution, not its management teams.

ISSUE:

WON Atty. Levi P. Muñoz is GUILTY of gross misconduct and violation of CPR.

HELD:

YES.

RATIO:

Muñoz violated the conditions of his
DILG authorization.

Notably, Muñoz did not deny Monares’ allegation that he made at least eighty-six (86) court appearances in connection with at least thirty (30) cases from April 11, 1996 to August 1, 2001. He merely alleged that his private practice did not prejudice the functions of his office.

Court appearances are necessarily made within regular government working hours, from 8:00 in the morning to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. Additional time is likewise required to study each case, draft pleadings and prepare for trial. The sheer volume of cases handled by Muñoz clearly indicates that government time was necessarily utilized in pursuit of his private practice, in clear violation of the DILG authorization and Rule 6.02 of the CPR.

Muñoz should have requested for
authority to engage in private practice
from the Secretary of DILG for his
second and third terms.

Section 12, Rule XVIII of the Revised Civil Service Rules which provides, in part:

No officer or employee shall engage directly in any private business, vocation, or profession or be connected with any commercial, credit, agricultural, or industrial undertaking without a written permission from the head of Department.

Memorandum 17 was issued more than nine (9) years prior to Muñoz’s appointment as Provincial Legal Officer, hence, he cannot feign ignorance thereof. As a local public official, it was incumbent upon Muñoz to secure the proper authority from the Secretary of the DILG not only for his first term, but also his second and third. His failure to do so rendered him liable for unauthorized practice of his profession and violation of Rule 1.01 of the CPR.

Muñoz represented conflicting interests.

Muñoz cannot elude Olaybal’s allegations of disloyalty. In Mabini Colleges, Inc. v. Pajarillo, the Court explained the tests to determine the existence of conflict of interest, thus:

There is conflict of interest when a lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two or more opposing parties. The test is “whether or not in behalf of one client, it is the lawyer’s duty to fight for an issue or claim, but it is his duty to oppose it for the other client. In brief, if he argues for one client, this argument will be opposed by him when he argues for the other client.” This rule covers not only cases in which confidential communications have been confided, but also those in which no confidence has been bestowed or will be used. Also, there is conflict of interest if the acceptance of the new retainer will require the attorney to perform an act which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation to use against his first client any knowledge acquired through their connection. Another test of the inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an attorney from the full discharge of his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double dealing in the performance thereof.

Muñoz acted as counsel for ALECO under the management of the old BOD in the two civil cases.

Muñoz served as retained counsel of ALECO under the direction of the NEA management team. The conflict of interest between Olaybal’s board on one hand, and NEA and its management team on the other, is apparent. By representing conflicting interests without the permission of all parties involved, Muñoz violated Rules 15.01 and 15.03 of the CPR.

DISPOSITION: SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of three (3) years.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s