On 29 September 1997 ECTHA and respondent Dioneda entered into a Retainer’s Agreement wherein respondent lawyer agreed to handle the case of the complainant against LVF Realty, Mr. Tinsay and BPI Family Savings Bank by way of filing a Complaint-in-Intervention, for P20,000.00 as attorney’s fees and P1,000.00 as appearance fee per hearing. It was further agreed that respondent lawyer would update the complaint and work on the development of the case.
In its Complaint ECTHA alleged that Atty. Dioneda, after receiving the amount of P20,000.00, did nothing for the development of the case and to update the complaint on the status of ECTHA’s intended Complaint-in-Intervention. Due to the insistence of the members of the Association, Mr. Fernando Garcia, ECTHA President, was compelled to check the records of the case in the RTC, and secured a certification from the Branch Clerk of Court that there was no motion for intervention filed in the case. On behalf of ECTHA Mr. Garcia repeatedly made oral demands for respondent to return the amount of P20,000.00 because he did not do anything to protect the rights and interests of the Association.
Respondent Dioneda only made oral promises to pay, and in August 1999 he could no longer be contacted and the personnel in his office simply made excuses to Mr. Garcia. After receiving the demand letter of ECTHA respondent immediately called up the residence of Mr. Garcia and informed him that he could get the money and the records of the case at his office. However, respondent informed ECTHA that a portion of the amount to be returned would be deducted as a reasonable fee for the efforts exerted by him. According to respondent, no representative of the complainant showed up at his law office. The matter was referred to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for investigation. Hearings were set on at least five (5) separate dates. Despite due notice, respondent never attended the IBP administrative hearings.
Did Atty. Dioneda violate Canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility?
YES. Respondent’s lamentable attitude towards his client’s case is clearly evident from his apparent disinterest in his own case for disbarment. Dioneda never bothered to present evidence in his defense. He disregarded all notices sent to him by the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, which were personally served at his office address. He never appeared before the Commission despite several opportunities to do so and explain his side. It is reasonable to conclude that under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, respondent committed an infringement of ethical standards. The act of receiving money as acceptance fee for legal services in handling the case of complainant ECTHA against LVF Realty, Mr. Tinsay and BPI Family Bank and subsequently failing to render such service is a clear violation of Canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Not only that. The acts of inexcusable negligence in legal matters entrusted to him and disloyalty to his client constitute major breaches of respondent’s oath as a lawyer. These acts that are inimical to his client’s interests render respondent liable. Acceptance of money from a client establishes an attorney-client relationship and gives rise to the duty of fidelity to the client’s cause. The canons of the legal profession require that once an attorney agrees to handle a case, he should undertake the task with zeal, care and utmost devotion. Indeed, respondent neglected a legal matter entrusted to him by failing to file the Complaint-in-Intervention he undertook to handle, thus making him liable under Rule 18.03 of Canon 18. Thus, respondent Atty. Michael Dioneda is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months, which shall take effect from the date of notice of receipt of the finality of this Decision, with a WARNING that repetition of the same or similar acts will merit a more severe penalty, and is ORDERED to RETURN to complainant Emiliano Court Townhouses Homeowners Association the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00), with interest of twelve percent (12%) per annum from the date of promulgation of this Decision until the full amount as directed, is returned.