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457 Phil. 1

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.C. No. 5474, August 28, 2003 ]

REDENTOR S. JARDIN, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. DEOGRACIAS VILLAR, JR. RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

TINGA, J.:

Law is a profession and lawyers are professionals. Implicit in professionalism is a certain level of competence and dedication. Far from measuring up to the standards of a lawyer's conduct set in the Code of Professional Responsibility which are also the hallmarks of professionalism, the lawyer charged in this case virtually abandoned his client's cause.

This is a complaint for disbarment filed by complainant Redentor S. Jardin against respondent Atty. Deogracias Villar, Jr., who was his counsel in a case, for the latter's failure to formally offer the documentary exhibits, which failure resulted in the dismissal of the case.

The complainant Redentor S. Jardin is the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 21480 of the Metropolitan Trial Court, Quezon City. A building contractor, he engaged the services of the respondent to represent him in the case which is for the collection of the sum of One Hundred Five Thousand Seven Hundred Forty Four and 80/100 Pesos (P105,744.80), representing the alleged unpaid contract price for the repair of the house of the defendants in the case.[1] The case went its course, but later despite several extensions of time given by the trial court, the respondent failed to file his formal offer of exhibits.[2] Consequently, on May 7, 2001, the trial court issued an Order the full text of which reads as follows:
When this case was called for continuation of hearing, Atty. Rodrigo C. Reyes, counsel for the defendants manifested that up to this date, Atty. Villar, Jr., counsel for the plaintiff has not formally offer (sic) the documentary exhibits for the plaintiff in writing as Order (sic) by the Court.

Records show that on February 26, 2001, Atty. Villar, Jr. was given an extension period of TEN (10) days within which to formally offer the documentary exhibits in writing copy furnished Atty. Reyes, counsel for the defendants who was given a period of Five (5) days within which to comment and/or oppose the admissibility of the said exhibits and set the continuation of the hearing of this case for the presentation of evidence for the defendant on March 30, 2001.

On March 30, 2001, when this case was called for hearing records show that Atty. Villar, Jr., counsel for the plaintiff has not complied yet with the formal offer of documentary exhibits for the plaintiff and again, in the interest of justice, the Court give (sic) Atty. Villar, Jr. another period of TEN (10) days within which to formally offer the documentary exhibits in writing and set the continuation of the hearing of this case for today for the presentation of evidence for the defendant.

Records show however, that on this date, the said counsel for the plaintiff have (sic) not complied with the submission of documentary exhibits for the plaintiff. For lack of interest on the part of the counsel for the plaintiff to further prosecute this case, upon motion of Atty. Reyes the oral testimonial evidence submitted by the plaintiff is hereby ordered WITHDRAWN from the records and upon further motion of ordered WITHDRAWN from the records and upon further motion of Atty. Reyes, this case is hereby ordered DISMISSED for lack of interest on the part of the plaintiff to further prosecute this case.

Upon motion of Atty. Reyes, set the continuation of the hearing of this case for the presentation of evidence on the counter claim on the part of the defendant on June 15, 2001 at 8:30 o'clock in the morning.[3]
The dismissal of the collection case prompted the complainant to file a verified Affidavit-Complaint[4] dated July 4, 2001 for the disbarment of the respondent with this Court, wherein he also alleged the developments which transpired after the dismissal of the case, viz: that he already terminated the services of the respondent as his counsel; that the respondent failed to return the originals of the documentary exhibits entrusted to him; and that the respondent finally handed over the documents only as an aftermath of a heated argument he had with the complainant's wife.

In a Resolution[5] dated September 10, 2001, this Court required the respondent to comment on the complaint against him. However, the respondent failed to file his comment despite two (2) extensions of time granted to him. Thus, the Court resolved to dispense with the filing of the respondent's comment and referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.[6]

Similarly, the respondent failed to file his answer as required by the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP.[7] Hence, the averments made, as well as the evidence submitted by the complainant, are undisputed.

Investigating Commissioner Attorney Milagros V. San Juan, IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, found the respondent liable for negligence and recommended his suspension from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, with the warning that a similar conduct in the future will be dealt with more severely. The salient portions of the Report and Recommendation dated March 4, 2003 of the Investigating Commissioner are as follows:
Complainant's contention that respondent Villar failed to file plaintiff's Formal Offer of Documentary Evidence is substantiated by the Orders dated 26 February 2001, 30 March 2001 and 7 May 2001 (Annexes 7, 9 and 10 respectively). The Order dated 7 May 2001 (Annex 10 of complainant's Affidavit) reads:

. . . .

It is clear from the above-quoted Order that it was the failure of respondent Villar to file the Formal Offer of Documentary Exhibits which led to the dismissal of Civil Case No. 21480 to the prejudice of respondent's client, herein complainant. Respondent Villar has failed to offer any explanation for his failure to file the Formal Offer of Exhibits within the several extensions of time given him by the trial court to do so. There is no doubt that it was part of respondent's obligation to complainant as the latter's counsel of record in Civil Case No. 21480, to file said Formal Offer of Documentary Exhibits, and respondent's dereliction of this duty has prejudiced the interests of respondent's client. In accepting Civil Case No. 21480, it was respondent's obligation to take all measures to protect the interests of his client in accordance with Canon (sic) 18 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility but it was respondent's negligence or omission which has caused damage to such interests.[8]
In its Resolution dated April 26, 2003, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved said Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.

We are also in full accord with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.

At the outset, we find particularly glaring the respondent's disregard of the resolution of this Court directing him to file his comment on the complaint. He exhibited a similar attitude in failing to file his answer when required by the Commission on Bar Discipline. The repeated cavalier conduct belies impudence and lack of respect for the authority of this Court.

The record clearly shows that the respondent has been languid in the performance of his duties as counsel for the complainant. He was given by the trial court several extensions of time: first, an extension of ten (10) days from February 26, 2001 or until March 8, 2001, and; second, another extension of ten (10) days from March 30, 2001, when the case was called for hearing and the court noted that no such formal offer had been filed then, or until April 9, 2001. It must also be emphasized that there was an interim period of twenty two (22) days between March 8, 2001 and March 30, 2001, and another interval of twenty-seven (27) days from April 9, 2001 until May 7, 2001 when the Order dismissing the case was issued. Effectively, therefore, respondent had three (3) months and nine (9) days within which to file the formal offer of exhibits.[9] The respondent did not bother to give an explanation even in mitigation or extenuation of his inaction.

Manifestly, the respondent has fallen short of the competence and diligence required of every member of the Bar. The pertinent Canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility provide:
CANON 12 - A LAWYER SHALL EXERT EVERY EFFORT AND CONSIDER IT HIS DUTY TO ASSIST IN THE SPEEDY AND EFFICIENT ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.

. . . .
Rule 12.03 - A lawyer shall not, after obtaining extensions of time to file pleadings, memoranda or briefs, let the period lapse without submitting the same or offering an explanation for his failure to do so.
CANON 17 -- A LAWYER OWES FIDELITY TO THE CAUSE OF HIS CLIENT AND HE SHALL BE MINDFUL OF THE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE REPOSED IN HIM.

CANON 18 - A LAWYER SHALL SERVE HIS CLIENT WITH COMPETENCE AND DILIGENCE.

. . . .
Rule 18.03 - A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.
. . . .

CANON 19 - A LAWYER SHAL REPRESENT HIS CLIENT WITH ZEAL WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF THE LAW.
It is indeed dismaying to note the respondent's patent violation of his duty as a lawyer. He committed a serious transgression when he failed to exert his utmost learning and ability and to give entire devotion to his client's cause. His client had relied on him to file the formal offer of exhibits among other things. But he failed him. Resulting as it did in the dismissal of the case, his failure constitutes inexcusable default. It therefore behooves the Court to take action on the respondent's mortal infraction, which caused undeserved and needless prejudice to his client's interest, adversely affected the confidence of the community in the legal profession and eroded the public's trust in the judicial system. As an attorney, the respondent is sworn to do his level best and to observe full fidelity to the courts and his clients.[10] This means that in relation to his duty to his clients he should put his maximum skills and full commitment to bear in representation of their causes.

We can only echo our pronouncements in Basas v. Icawat,[11] to wit:
Respondent manifestly fell short of the diligence required of his profession, in violation of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which mandates that a lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence. Rule 18.03 provides:
"A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable."
As we reiterated in Aromin, et al. v. Boncavil, A. C. No. 5135, September 22, 1999:

Once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, the lawyer owes fidelity to such cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. He must serve the client with competence and diligence, and champion the latter's cause with wholehearted fidelity, care, and devotion. Elsewise stated, he owes entire devotion to the interest of the client, warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his client's rights, and the exertion of his utmost learning and ability to the end that nothing be taken or withheld from his client, save by the rules of law, legally applied. This simply means that his client is entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy and defense that is authorized by the law of the land he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. If much is demanded from an attorney, it is because the entrusted privilege to practice law carries with it the correlative duties not only to the client but also to the court, to the bar, and to the public. A lawyer who performs his duty with diligence and candor not only protects the interest of his client; he also serves the ends of justice, does honor to the bar, and helps maintain the respect of the community to the legal profession.[12]
This Court has emphatically ruled that the trust and confidence necessarily reposed by clients requires in the attorney a high standard and appreciation of his duty to his clients, his profession, the courts and the public.[13] Every case a lawyer accepts deserves his full attention, diligence, skill and competence, regardless of its importance and whether he accepts it for a fee or free.[14] Certainly, a member of the Bar who is worth his title cannot afford to practice the profession in a lackadaisical fashion. A lawyer's lethargy from the perspective of the Canons is both unprofessional and unethical.

The IBP recommended the suspension of the respondent from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months. We find the recommended penalty commensurate with the offense committed.

In Aromin v. Boncavil,[15] this Court suspended a lawyer for six (6) months for his failure to file a written offer of evidence despite the trial court's directive.

The failure to file formal offer of evidence is in pari materia with failure to file brief, which as this Court held in Perla Compania de Seguros, Inc. v. Saquilabon[16] constitutes inexcusable negligence. In the Saquilabon case, the respondent lawyer was suspended from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months. The Court likewise imposed the same penalty upon the respondents in the cases of In Re: Atty. David Briones,[17] Spouses Galen v. Paguinigan,[18] Spouses Rabanal v. Rabanal[19] for their failure to file the briefs of their respective clients.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, respondent Atty. Deogracias Villar is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months effective upon finality hereof, with the WARNING that the repetition of a similar violation will be dealt with even more severely.

Let a copy of this decision be entered in the personal records of respondent as a member of the Bar, and copies furnished the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.



[1] Vide: Complaint dated Nov. 19, 1998, Rollo, pp. 8-11.

[2] Vide: Orders dated Feb. 26, 2001, March 30, 2001, and May 7, 2001, Rollo, pp. 26, 28, 29-30, respectively.

[3] Rollo, pp. 29-30.

[4] Id., at pp. 1-7.

[5] Id., at p. 38.

[6] Resolution dated Aug. 7, 2002, Rollo, p. 47.

[7] Vide: Report and Recommendation dated March 4, 2003, submitted by the Commission of Bar Discipline, p. 4.

[8] Id., at pp. 5-7.

[9] Vide: Orders dated Feb. 26, 2001, March 30, 2001, and May 7, 2001, supra.

[10] Attorney's Oath; Form 28, Appendix of Forms, Rules of Court.

[11] Basas v. Icawat, A.C. No. 4282, August 24, 2000, 338 SCRA 648.

[12] Id. at 651.

[13] Sipin-Nabor vs. Baterina, 412 Phil. 419 (2001).

[14] In Re: Atty. David Briones, 415 Phil. 203 (2001).

[15] Aromin V. Boncavil, A.C. No. 5135; September 22, 1999, 315 SCRA 1.

[16] 337 Phil. 555 (1997).

[17] 415 Phil. 203 (2001).

[18] A.C. 5558, March 7, 2002.

[19] A.C. No. 1372, June 27, 2002.

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