Thursday, January 21, 2016

Elpidio P. Tiong vs. Atty. George M. Florendo [A.C. No. 4428, December 12, 2011]

FACTS: Elpidio P. Tiong, an American citizen and his wife, Ma. Elena T. Tiong, are real estate lessors in Baguio City. They are engaged in the assembly and repair of motor vehicles in Paldit, Sison, Pangasinan. In 1991, they engaged the services of respondent Atty. George M. Florendo not only as legal counsel but also as administrator of their businesses whenever complainant would leave for the United States of America (USA). Sometime in 1993, complainant began to suspect that respondent and his wife were having an illicit affair. His suspicion was confirmed in the afternoon of May 13, 1995. His wife eventually broke down and confessed to their love affair that began in 1993. Respondent likewise admitted the relationship. On May 15, 1995, the parties met again at the Mandarin Restaurant in Baguio City and, in the presence of a Notary Public, Atty. Liberato Tadeo, respondent and Ma. Elena executed and signed an affidavit attesting to their illicit relationship and seeking their respective spouses' forgiveness. Complainant instituted a suit for disbarment charging respondent of gross immorality and grave misconduct.

ISSUE: Whether or not respondent is liable for gross immoral misconduct

RULING: Yes. It has been consistently held by the Court that possession of good moral character is not only a condition for admission to the Bar but is a continuing requirement to maintain one's good standing in the legal profession. It is the bounden duty of law practitioners to observe the highest degree of morality in order to safeguard the integrity of the Bar. Consequently, an errant behavior on the part of a lawyer, be it in his public or private activities, which tends to show him deficient in moral character, honesty, probity or good demeanor, is sufficient to warrant his suspension or disbarment.

Respondent's act of having an affair with his client's wife manifested his disrespect for the laws on the sanctity of marriage and his own marital vow of fidelity. It showed his utmost moral depravity and low regard for the ethics of his profession. He violated the trust and confidence reposed on him by complainant which in itself is prohibited under Canon 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Undeniably, his illicit relationship with Ma. Elena amounts to a disgraceful and grossly immoral conduct warranting disciplinary action from the Court.

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