Dalisay Capili vs Atty. Alfredo Bentulan
Problem Areas in Legal Ethics – Duty to Represent Client with Competence and Diligence
Dalisay Capili engaged the legal services of Atty. Alfredo Bentulan as her counsel in a civil case. Capili lost in the trial court. She wanted to appeal but despite her payment for the preparation and filing of an appeal brief, Atty. Bentulan failed to file the said pleading. This resulted to the dismissal of her appeal. Ten years after said dismissal, Capili filed a disbarment case against Bentulan.
In his defense, Bentulan said that Capili’s action is already barred by laches; that in the first place, Capili knew that the appeal was unmeritorious; that she never actually paid Bentulan for the preparation and filing of said appeal.
ISSUE: Whether or not Atty. Alfredo Bentulan should be disciplined.
HELD: Yes. The lapse of ten years from the alleged misconduct does not bar the filing of this case. Ordinary statutes of limitation had no application to disbarment or suspension proceedings against members of the Bar. These proceedings are sui generis. They are not akin to the trials of actions or suits in which interests and rights are enforced by the plaintiffs against the defendants, but are rather investigations into the conduct of the members of the Bar made by the Supreme Court within the context of its plenary powers expressly granted by the Constitution to regulate the practice of law.
In preparing and filing the appeal brief, the question of whether or not Bentulan was paid his legal services is of no moment. As a lawyer, he owes fidelity to both cause and client, even if he is not paid any fee for the attorney-client relationship. Further, if he believed that Capili’s case was unmeritorious, he should have advised Capili accordingly.
The failure to file a brief resulting in the dismissal of an appeal constitutes inexcusable negligence. This violates Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides:
Canon 18 – A lawyer shall service his client with competence and diligence.
Rule 18.03: A lawyer shall not neglect a matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.