Monday, March 05, 2012

Celaje vs. Soriano [A.C. No. 7418, October 9, 2007]

Facts: Andrea Balce Celaje alleged that respondent asked for money to be put up as an injunction bond, which complainant found out later, however, to be unnecessary as the application for the writ was denied by the trial court. Respondent also asked for money on several occasions allegedly to spend for or to be given to the judge handling their case, Judge Milagros Quijano, of the Regional Trial Court, Iriga City, Branch 36. When complainant approached Judge Quijano and asked whether what respondent was saying was true, Judge Quijano outrightly denied the allegations and advised her to file an administrative case against respondent. 

In his Answer, respondent denied the charges against him and averred that the same were merely concocted by complainant to destroy his character. He also contended that it was complainant who boasted that she is a professional fixer in administrative agencies as well as in the judiciary; and that complainant promised to pay him large amounts of attorney's fees which complainant however did not keep. 

Both parties appeared in the Mandatory Conference and Hearing on January 18, 2006. Thereafter, the case was submitted for decision. 

In the Report and Recommendation dated January 24, 2006, IBP-Commission on Bar Discipline Commissioner Dennis A.B. Funa found respondent guilty of Gross Misconduct in his relations with his client and recommended that respondent be suspended for three years from the practice of law. 

Issue: Whether or not Atty. Soriano violated the Code of Professional Responsibility

Held: Yes. The Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), particularly Canon 16 thereof, mandates that a lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession. He shall account for all money or property collected or received from his client and shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand. 

As found by Commissioner Funa, it was established that respondent could not account for P5,800.00 which was part of the sum given by complainant to him for the purpose of filing an injunctive bond. Respondent admitted having received from complainant P17,800.00 on April 19, 2002 for the preliminary injunction and admitted to having a balance of P9,000.00 in his promissory note to the Manila Insurance Co., Inc. dated April 23, 2002, which was reduced to P5,800.00 by reason of an additional payment of P4,000.00, leaving an amount of P5,800.00 unaccounted for. The affidavit of the insurance agent, Valentina Ramos, dated December 8, 2005 also states that even up to said date, respondent had not yet paid the balance of P5,800.00. 

Respondent's failure to return the money to complainant upon demand gave rise to the presumption that he misappropriated it for his own use to the prejudice of, and in violation of the trust reposed in him by his client. It is a gross violation of general morality and of professional ethics and impairs public confidence in the legal profession which deserves punishment. 

Atty. Soriano is suspended from the practice of law for two years. 

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