SC: Greedy lawyers can be disbarred

“He has been warned the first time; he has not made amends to undo the consequences of his indiscretions and greed this second time. He was punished with three years of suspension, but to no avail, as no sooner could he complete the service of the penalty than he is again before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Court reviewing his actuations.” Thus held the Supreme Court (SC) En Banc as it disbarred a lawyer who was accused of breaching his fiduciary duties all because of money for the second time.

In a 13-page per curiam decision promulgated on August 14, 2019, the SC found Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa guilty of gross misconduct in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility and ordered the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) to strike out his name from the Roll of Attorneys. The Court said that this resolution, effective immediately, is without prejudice to any pending or contemplated proceedings to be initiated against him.

Quoting Paulo Coelho, “[a] mistake repeated more than once is a decision,” the Court noted that Atty. Dela Rosa, who has been suspended from the practice of law for three years effective September 26, 2016 for borrowing a substantial amount of money from his client-spouses, is again caught up in a similar situation involving substantial amounts of money affecting this time his Client-Cooperative and its farmer-beneficiaries.

In 1997, Palalan CARP Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative hired Atty. Dela Rosa in a civil case involving the annulment of a Transfer Certificate of Title over a 111.4 hectare land situated in Barangay Lumbia, Cagayan De Oro City, in the Cooperative’s name. In 2002, the Cooperative executed a special power of attorney (SPA) authorizing Atty. Dela Rosa to do certain acts but revoked the same in 2007. Despite the revocation of the SPA, Atty. Dela Rosa still brokered the sale of the property. Atty. Dela Rosa did not dispute that he processed the sale and paid the farmer-beneficiaries their respective shares in the purchase price.

The SC said that Atty. Dela Rosa acted with corrupt intent to flagrantly disregard established ethical rules, and his conduct amounts to grave misconduct.The IBP-Board of Governors concluded that Atty. Dela Rosa preferred to protect his own personal pecuniary interest over the interest of his client and its members, and recommended the extreme penalty of disbarment on him, which the SC adopted.

The SC further held that Atty. Dela Rosa had proven himself disloyal to his client ─ exploitative, untrustworthy, and a double-dealer. The client did not know who the buyer was when the land had been sold. He acted to protect the buyer’s interest, and in all likelihood, his as well. The client did not know and still does not know how much was actually paid for the land. Money flowed from an account set up by Atty. Dela Rosa himself and although under the Cooperative’s name, Atty. Dela Rosa alone had access to it. The cash proceeds of the sale have not been accounted for to this date.

The SC discussed that a lawyer is prohibited from acting or continuing to act for a client where there is a conflict of interest, except when there is a written consent of all concerned after a full disclosure of the facts. In this case, there was no consent to speak of at all.

The rule against conflict of interest requires a lawyer to decline a retainer from a prospective client or withdraw from a client’s ongoing matter. A lawyer should examine whether a conflict of interest exists not only from the outset but throughout the duration of a retainer because new circumstances or information may establish or reveal a conflict of interest.

The SC said that undoubtedly a violation of the high moral standards of the legal profession justifies the imposition of the appropriate penalty, including suspension and disbarment.

(SC Disbars Greedy Lawyer. November 14, 2019. A.C. No. 12008, Palalan CARP Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, represented by Beverly Domo, vs. Atty. Elmer A. Dela Rosa, August 14, 2019. Read the full text at: