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The tale of 3 companeros.

Paul and Romi Valens bought a parcel of land, from Seraphim. On it, Paul and Romi built their dream house. However, the spouses failed to register the sale or secure a transfer certificate of title in their names.

Years later, a conference was held in the house of Atty. Jovi to settle the land dispute between Seraphim and the Valens spouses since both were relatives and distant kin of Atty. Jovi. Seraphim was willing to relinquish ownership if spouses Valens could show documents evidencing ownership.

Paul exhibited a private document written in Ilocano. However, Seraphim claimed that the deed covered a different property. The day ended without settlement in sight.

Months later, Seraphim, assisted by Atty. Arsenic, filed a complaint against Paul for recovery of possession with damages.

Spouses Valens engaged the services of Atty. Dio. Atty. Dio advised them to present a notarized deed of sale in lieu of the private document written in Ilocano. For this purpose, Paul gave Atty. Dio money to pay the person who would falsify the signature of the alleged vendor.

A Deed of Absolute Sale was executed purporting to be a sale of the questioned lot.

The trial court rendered a decision in favor of plaintiff, Seraphim. The court expressed the belief that the said document is not authentic.

Paul, thereafter, filed a Petition for Certiorari, under Rule 65, before the Court of Appeals alleging that the trial court failed to provide a workable solution concerning his house.

While the petition, Seraphim sold 40 square meters of the litigated lot to Atty. Jovi and the remaining portion she sold to her counsel, Atty. Arsenic. Paul filed a disbarment proceeding against Atty. Arsenic on the ground that said counsel allegedly violated Article 1491 of the New Civil Code as well as Article II of the Canons of Professional Ethics, prohibiting the purchase of property under litigation by a counsel.

It was only after Paul filed the disbarment proceeding that the appellate court dismissed Paul's petition for certiorari.

Connie, the daughter of Paul and Romi, filed a disbarment proceeding against Atty. Dio for his participation in the forgery of Deed of Absolute Sale and its subsequent introduction as evidence for his client; and also, against Attys. Jovi and Arsenic for purchasing a litigated property allegedly in violation of Article 1491 of the New Civil Code.

Q: Did Atty. Arsenic purchase the subject property in violation of Art. 1491 of the New Civil Code.

A: Yes. Under Article 1491 of the New Civil Code:

The following persons cannot acquire by purchase, even at a public of judicial auction, either in person or through the mediation of another:

x x x x x x x x x

(5) . . . this prohibition includes the act of acquiring by assignment and shall apply to lawyers, with respect to the property and rights which may be the object of any litigation in which they may take part by virtue of their profession.

In this case Atty. Arsenic purchased the lot after finality of judgment, there was still a pending certiorari proceeding.

A thing is said to be in litigation not only if there is some contest or litigation over it in court, but also from the moment that it becomes subject to the judicial action of the judge.

Logic indicates, in certiorari proceedings, that the appellate court may either grant or dismiss the petition. Hence, it is not safe to conclude, for purposes under Art. 1491 that the litigation has terminated when the judgment of the trial court become final while a certiorari connected therewith is still in progress.

Thus, purchase of the property by Atty. Arsenic in this case constitutes malpractice in violation of Art. 1491 and the Canons of Professional Ethics. Clearly, this malpractice is a ground for suspension.

Q: Why is a lawyer prohibited from acquiring properties in litigation?

A: Public policy prohibits the transactions in view of the fiduciary relationship involved. It is intended to curtail any undue influence of the lawyer upon his client. Greed may get the better of the sentiments of loyalty and disinterestedness.

Any violation of this prohibition would constitute and is a ground for suspension.

Q: Is the sale of the property to Atty. Jovi covered by the prohibition?

A: No. The sale in favor of Atty. Jovi does not constitute malpractice. There was no attorney-client relationship between Seraphim and Atty. Jovi considering that the latter did not take part as counsel in court case. The transaction is not covered by Art. 1491 nor by the Canons adverted to. Art. 1491, prohibiting the sale to the counsel concerned, applies only while the litigation is pending.

Q: Is Atty. Dio guilty of malpractice?

A: Yes. Atty. Dio merely denied the charge of falsification of the deed of sale.

It is settled jurisprudence that affirmative testimony is given greater weight than negative testimony. When an individual's integrity is challenged by evidence, it is not enough that he denies the charges against him; he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence for the relator and show proofs that he still maintains the highest degree of morality and integrity which at all time is expected of him.

There is a clear preponderant evidence that Atty. Dio committed falsification of a deed of sale, and its subsequent introduction in court prejudices his prime duty in the administration of justice as an officer of the court.

A lawyer owes entire devotion to the interest of his client, but not at the expense of truth. The first duty of a lawyer is not to his client but to the administration of justice.

To that end, his client's success is wholly subordinate. His conduct ought to and must always be scrupulously observant of law and ethics. While a lawyer must advocate his client's cause in utmost earnestness and with the maximum skill he can marshal, he is not at liberty to resort to illegal means for his client's interest.

It is the duty of an attorney to employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him, such means as are consistent with truth and honor.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jun 3, 2017
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