Posted by: Elmer Brabante | May 9, 2009

EUGENIA MENDOZA vs. ATTY. VICTOR DECIEMBRE


EUGENIA MENDOZA vs. ATTY. VICTOR V. DECIEMBRE
A.C. No. 5338
February 23, 2009
(en banc)

**Any departure from the path which a lawyer must follow as demanded by the virtues of his profession shall not be tolerated by this Court as the disciplining authority for there is perhaps no profession after that of the sacred ministry in which a high-toned morality is more imperative than that of law.

FACTS:

Complainant Augenia Mendoza, a mail sorter at the Central Post Office Manila, borrowed from Rodela Loans, Inc., through respondent Atty. Victor Deciembre, the amount of P20,000.00 payable in six months at 20% interest, secured by 12 blank checks, with numbers 47253, 47256 to 47266, drawn against the Postal Bank. Although she was unable to faithfully pay her obligations on their due dates, she made remittances, however, to respondent’s Metrobank account from November 11, 1998 to March 15, 1999 in the total sum of P12,910.00. Claiming that the amounts remitted were not enough to cover the penalties, interests and other charges, respondent warned complainant that he would deposit Postal Check No. 47253 filled up by him on March 30, 1999 in the amount of P16,000.00. Afraid that respondent might sue her in court, complainant made good said check and respondent was able to encash the same on March 30, 1999. Thereafter, complainant made subsequent payments to the Metrobank account of respondent from April 13, 1999 to October 15, 1999, thereby paying respondent the total sum of P35,690.00.

Respondent filled up two of the postal checks she issued in blank, Check Nos. 47261 and 47262 with the amount of P50,000.00 each and with the dates January 15, 2000 and January 20, 2000 respectively, which respondent claims was in exchange for the P100,000.00 cash that complainant received on November 15, 1999. Complainant insisted however that she never borrowed P100,000.00 from respondent and that it was unlikely that respondent would lend her such amount. Complainant also claimed that respondent victimized other employees of the Postal Office by filling up, without authorization, blank checks issued to him as condition for loans.

Respondent averred that his dealings with complainant were done in his private capacity and not as a lawyer, and that when he filed a complaint for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. (B.P. Blg.) 22 against complainant, he was only vindicating his rights as a private citizen. He alleged further that: it was complainant who deliberately deceived him by not honoring her commitment to their November 15, 1999 transaction involving P100,000.00 and covered by two checks which bounced for the reason “account closed”; the October 13, 1999 transaction was a separate and distinct transaction; complainant filed the disbarment case against him to get even with him for filing the estafa and B.P. Blg. 22 case against the former; complainant’s claim that respondent filled up the blank checks issued by complainant is a complete lie; the truth was that the checks referred to were already filled up when complainant affixed her signature thereto; it was unbelievable that complainant would issue blank checks, and that she was a mere low-salaried employee, since she was able to maintain several checking accounts; and if he really intended to defraud complainant, he would have written a higher amount on the checks instead of only P50,000.00.

ISSUE:      whether or not Atty. Victor Deciembre is guilty of guilty of gross misconduct and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and therefore  should be disbarred from the practice of law.

HELD:

The practice of law is not a right but merely a privilege bestowed by the State upon those who show that they possess, and continue to possess, the qualifications required by law for the conferment of such privilege. A high sense of morality, honesty and fair dealing is expected and required of members of the bar. They must conduct themselves with great propriety, and their behavior must be beyond reproach anywhere and at all times.

The fact that there is no attorney-client relationship in this case and the transactions entered into by respondent were done in his private capacity cannot shield respondent, as a lawyer, from liability.

A lawyer may be disciplined for acts committed even in his private capacity for acts which tend to bring reproach on the legal profession or to injure it in the favorable opinion of the public. Indeed, there is no distinction as to whether the transgression is committed in a lawyer’s private life or in his professional capacity, for a lawyer may not divide his personality as an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at another.

In this case, evidence abounds that respondent has failed to live up to the standards required of members of the legal profession. Specifically, respondent has transgressed provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility, to wit:

  • * CANON 1 – A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.
    Rule 1.01. – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
    CANON 7 – A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the integrated bar.
    Rule 7.03. A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

As manifested [in the Olbes and Acosta] cases, respondent’s offenses are manifold. First, he demands excessive payments from his borrowers; then he fills up his borrowers’ blank checks with fictitious amounts, falsifying commercial documents for his material gain; and then he uses said checks as bases for filing unfounded criminal suits against his borrowers in order to harass them. Such acts manifest respondent’s perversity of character, meriting his severance from the legal profession.

While the power to disbar is exercised with great caution and is withheld whenever a lesser penalty could accomplish the end desired, the seriousness of respondent’s offense compels the Court to wield its supreme power of disbarment. Indeed, the Court will not hestitate to remove an erring attorney from the esteemed brotherhood of lawyers where the evidence calls for it. This is because in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court, with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney.

As respondent’s misconduct brings intolerable dishonor to the legal profession, the severance of his privilege to practice law for life is in order.

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Responses

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