Monday, March 05, 2012

Canoy vs. Ortiz [A.C. No. 5485, March 16, 2005]

Facts: Complainant Elmer Canoy filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against his former employer, Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines. The complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Regional Arbitration Board VI in Bacolod City. 

Respondent Atty. Jose Max Ortiz appeared as counsel for Canoy in this proceeding. In 1998, the labor arbiter hearing the complaint ordered the parties to submit their respective position papers. Canoy submitted all the necessary documents and records to Atty. Ortiz for the preparation of the position paper. Thereafter, he made several unfruitful visits to the office of Atty. Ortiz to follow-up the progress of the case. After a final visit at the office of Atty. Ortiz in April of 2000, during which Canoy was told to come back as his lawyer was not present, Canoy decided to follow-up the case himself with the NLRC. He was shocked to learn that his complaint was actually dismissed way back in 1998, for failure to prosecute, the parties not having submitted their position papers. The dismissal was without prejudice. Canoy alleged that Atty. Ortiz had never communicated to him about the status of the case, much less the fact that he failed to submit the position paper. 

In the comment filed by Atty. Ortiz, he contends that since he entered the legal profession in 1987, he was providing his services mostly to indigent clients, “at considerable financial sacrifice to himself”. Canoy was among those low-income clients whom Atty. Ortiz deigned to represent. 

Atty. Ortiz admits though that the period within which to file the position paper had already lapsed. He attributes this failure to timely file the position paper to the fact that after his election as Councilor of Bacolod City, "he was frankly preoccupied with both his functions as a local government official and as a practicing lawyer." Eventually, "his desire to help was beyond physical limitations," and he withdrew from his other cases and his "free legal services." 

Atty. Ortiz further contends that the complainant was free to call or visit his office and that it was his policy to inform clients that they should be the ones to follow-up their cases with his office, as it would be "too difficult and a financial burden to attend making follow-ups with hundreds of clients, mostly indigents" with only two office personnel. 

Issue: Whether or not Atty. Ortiz’s contentions justify his failure to submit a position paper for the complainant. 

Held: NO. Respondent attorney violated, inter alia, Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides: 


Lawyers who devote their professional practice in representing litigants who could ill afford legal services deserve commendation. However, this mantle of public service will not deliver the lawyer, no matter how well-meaning, from the consequences of negligent acts. It is not enough to say that all pauper litigants should be assured of legal representation. They deserve quality representation as well. 

If indeed Atty. Ortiz's schedule, workload, or physical condition was such that he would not be able to make a timely filing, he should have informed Canoy of such fact. The relationship of lawyer-client being one of confidence, there is ever present the need for the client to be adequately and fully informed of the developments of the case and should not be left in the dark as to the mode and manner in which his/her interests are being defended. Also, he cannot now shift the blame to complainant for failing to inquire about the status of the case, since, as stated above, it was his duty as lawyer to inform his clients of the status of cases entrusted to him. 

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Jose Max S. Ortiz is ordered SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one (1) month from notice, with the warning that a repetition of the same negligence will be dealt with more severely. xxx 

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