The Supreme Court (SC) has warned against the filing of “malicious suits” against lawyers as it declared that it will wield its power to disbar only “when substantial evidence would prove the lack of fitness to engage in the practice of law.”
In a decision released last December and written by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the SC – reiterating its previous ruling – said:
“The primary purpose of administrative disciplinary proceedings against delinquent lawyers is to uphold the law and to prevent the ranks of the legal profession from being corrupted by unscrupulous practices – not to shelter or nurse a wounded ego.”
With the decision, the SC cleared Atty. James Roulyn R. Alvarico of the disbarment complaint filed by businessman Wilson B. Tan who lodged a criminal case for theft against the lawyer’s client, Blas Fier Manco, before the Dumaguete City Regional Trial Court (RTC) in 2017.
In the civil aspect of his complaint, Tan demanded that Manco pay P350,000 plus P50,000 for every month of delay for the stolen steering wheel which reportedly costs only P28,000 in the market.
Tan alleged that Alvarico approached him personally and tried to convince him for the settlement of the civil aspect of the case provided he (the lawyer) would be given 15 percent commission.
He further alleged that he and Alvarico met several times but failed in the settlement talks because the lawyer insisted on his demand for 15 percent commission.
Tan claimed that Alvarico violated Rule 15 .03 and Canon 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and should be disbarred since the lawyer allegedly committed conflict of interests and betrayal of trust and confidence against his client Manco.
Alvarico denied the charges in the complaint as “utterly baseless, fabricated, and unfounded.” He pointed out that he met with Tan to iron out a settlement on the behest of his client.
He said that there was no conflict of interest because he never represented conflicting interests but solely the interest of his client whom he always informed of the results of his meetings with Tan.
On Nov. 22, 2017, after investigation, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) investigating commissioner recommended the dismissal of the disbarment complaint.
The IBP commissioner found that Alvarico’s act of approaching Tan to discuss the possibility of a compromise is not conflict of interest, but actually in the interest of his client.
On allegation that Alvarico demanded a 15 percent commission for the settlement, the IBP commissioner ruled that “the complainant failed to prove such allegation, which was found to be self-serving, apart from being unsubstantiated, and hence deserving of very little weight.”
On Jan. 19, 2019, the IBP Board of Governors issued a resolution which adopted the findings of fact and recommendation of the its investigating commissioner.
After denying Tan’s motion for reconsideration, the IBP forwarded to the SC its resolution and the records of the case.
Resolving the case, the SC said:
“The Court finds no cogent reason to depart from the findings and recommendations of the IBP Board of Governors.
“An attorney enjoys the legal presumption that he is innocent of the charges against him until the contrary is proved, and that as an officer of the Court, he is presumed to have performed his duties in accordance with his oath.
“In disbarment proceedings, the quantum of proof is substantial evidence and the burden of proof is on the complainant to establish the allegations in his complaint.
“… the Court finds that complainant failed to discharge his burden of proof as he did not establish his claims through relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion that Atty. Alvarico is guilty of representing conflicting interests and betrayal of trust and confidence reposed in him by his client Manco.
“In the case at bar, during the negotiations between complainant and Atty. Alvarico, the latter did not represent the former’s interests because his offer to settle the civil aspect of the case through the payment of the value of the allegedly stolen steering wheel is in the interest of his client Manco who was criminally charged for the theft thereof.
“The settlement of the civil aspect of the theft case filed against his client was towards his client’s interest, and even encouraged by our legal system and aligned with the duty of an attorney.
“The Court, therefore, agrees with the IBP Board of Governor’s finding that the complaint against Atty. Alvarico should be dismissed for failure of complainant to prove the charges.
“We warn against the filing of malicious suits against members of the bar. As we held in Tabuzo v. Atty. Gomos, ‘the primary purpose of administrative disciplinary proceedings against delinquent lawyers is to uphold the law and to prevent the ranks of the legal profession from being corrupted by unscrupulous practices – not to shelter or nurse a wounded ego.’ This Court will only wield our power to disbar when substantial evidence would prove the lack of fitness to engage in the practice of law.”