Legal Ethics

Palalan CARP Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative v. Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa A.C. No. 12008 August 14, 2019 “SC Disbars Greedy Lawyer“

FACTS:

Respondent Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa has been suspended from the practice of law for three (3) years effective September 26, 2016. His infractions consisted of borrowing a substantial amount of money from his client-spouses. Not only was he unable to pay despite demand, he even denied he owed them anything.  Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa is here once again being accused of breaching his fiduciary duties on money matters affecting this time his Client-Cooperative and its farmer-beneficiaries. 

Complainant Cooperative was the registered owner of a sizeable tract of prime agricultural land situated in Barangay Lumbia, Cagayan De Oro City, covered by TCT No. T-170. 

As a Cooperative, it held legal title to the land on behalf of its members as its beneficial owners of the land.

In 1995, the Cooperative was sued by the Philippine Veterans Bank for annulment of TCT No. T-1 70, docketed as Civil Case No. 95-086. 

The Cooperative engaged Respondent and his law office to represent it in said Case.  

The Cooperative executed a special power of attorney authorizing Respondent to negotiate for the sale of the land, execute any and all documents which may be necessary to consummate the sale transaction, and collect, accept, or demand all the sale proceeds on the land due the Cooperative and to deposit the same to its account. 

Seven (7) years later, the Cooperative revoked Respondent’s special power of attorney. But Respondent insisted that members of the Cooperative’ s new governing board, led by Lino D. Sajol had actually retained Respondent as the Cooperative’s counsel and reconfirmed all previous authorities granted him.

The trial court dismissed Civil Case No. 95-086 on ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case. 

Not long after, the Cooperative’s 111.1484 hectare property got sold with Respondent brokering the sale. 

Respondent did not reveal to the Cooperative the circumstances surrounding the sale, let alone, the buyer’s identity. 

Believing that Respondent was engaging in conflict of interest, the Cooperative charged him with gross misconduct for multiple violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR). The Complaint was referred to the IBP – Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD). 

The Cooperative also initiated a civil action for annulment of the sale brokered by Respondent and the actions of the new governing board led by Lino D. Sajol.

In his Report and Recommendation, Investigating Commissioner Fernandez recommended that the Complaint be dismissed without prejudice. 

The IBP-Board of Governors declined such recommendation, and found that Respondent did not act with diligence and competence when he allowed Civil Case No. 95-086 to drag on for about ten (10) years, engaged in conflict of interest and breached his sworn duty to protect his client’s interest when he refused to divulge to the latter the identity of the buyer of the land all in violation of the Canons of the CPR. Respondent also verbally abused the farmer-beneficiaries, and improperly compelled the Cooperative to sell the land at an extremely low price of P30.00 per square meter.

The IBP-Board of Governors concluded that Respondent preferred to protect his own personal pecuniary interest over the interest of his client and its members. 

The IBP-Board of Governors recommended that Respondent be disbarred. 

ISSUE: 

Whether or not Respondent violated the Code of Professional Responsibility that warranted his disbarment from the practice of law.

RULING: 

Respondent violated several provisions of the CPR in relation to Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court 

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court governs the disbarment and suspension of attorneys, viz: 

Section 27. Disbarment and suspension of attorneys by the Supreme Court; grounds therefor. 

– A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers constitute malpractice. 

Misconduct has been defined as an intentional wrongdoing or a deliberate violation of a rule of law or standard of behavior. It is grave where the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard / of established rule are present. Otherwise, it is only simple.

What lies at the core of Respondent’s multiple serious infractions has been his motivation to willfully, voluntarily, and knowingly engage in conflict of interest to serve his own personal pecuniary interest at all cost. 

The rule against conflict of interest is expressed in Canon 15, Rules 15.01 and 15.03 of the CPR. It means the existence of a substantial risk that a lawyer’s loyalty to or representation of a client would be materially and adversely affected by the lawyer’s own interest or the lawyer’s duties to another client, a former client, or a third person, during the various stages of the professional relationship. 

The rule stipulates that a lawyer cannot act or continue to act for a client when there is a conflict of interest, except as provided in Rule 15.03 itself – – securing the written consent of all the parties concerned after full disclosure to them of the facts. 

The prohibition against conflict of interest is founded on the principles of public policy and good taste.

Indeed, Respondent had acted with corrupt intent to flagrantly disregard established ethical rules, and his conduct amounts to grave misconduct. 

Disbarment is the appropriate penalty for Respondent’s repeated professional infractions This is the second time Respondent is being accused of breaching his fiduciary duties all because of money. 

It has been ruled that”[ d]isbarment should never be decreed where any lesser penalty could accomplish the end desired. Undoubtedly, a violation of the high moral standards of the legal profession justifies the imposition of the appropriate penalty, including suspension and disbarment. These penalties are imposed with great caution, because they are the most severe forms of disciplinary action and their consequences are beyond repair.”

Respondent Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa was found GUILTY of gross misconduct in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility and is DISBARRED from the practice of law. 

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