Atty. Elmer Solidon vs Atty. Ramil Macalalad
613 SCRA 472 – Legal Ethics – Code of Professional Responsibility – Neglect of Duties – Failure to Account
In 2005, Atty. Elmer Solidon engaged the services of Atty. Ramil Macalalad for the latter to handle the judicial titling of a parcel of land owned by the Solidons in Borongan, Samar. They agreed for a fee of P80k. Solidon gave P50k as downpayment to Macalalad and the remaining P30k shall be paid after Solidon shall receive the title over the said property.
But for 6 months after the P50k was given, Atty. Macalalad never gave an update to Solidon. It turns out that Macalalad never filed any petition to register the land.
Solidon then filed an administrative case against Macalalad. Solidon alleged that Macalalad neglected his duties and even avoided talking to him despite efforts from Solidon to communicate with Macalalad.
In his defense, Macalalad averred that he did not file the petition because Solidon failed to update him and that Solidon never gave the documents he was asking for.
Eventually, the Commission on Bar Discipline recommended Macalalad to be suspended for three months.
ISSUE: Whether or not Atty. Macalalad should be suspended.
HELD: Yes. Macalalad is guilty of negligence when he neglected his client’s cause. This is a violation of Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. A lawyer is negligent if he failed to do anything to protect his client’s interest after receiving his acceptance fee. Further, there is also negligence when he failed to update his client about the status of the case.
Even if assuming that Solidon was also negligent, Macalalad cannot shift the blame to his client for failing to follow up on his case because it was the lawyer’s duty to inform his client of the status of the case. Even if the client has been equally at fault for the lack of communication, the main responsibility remains with the lawyer to inquire and know the best means to acquire the required information. The act of receiving money as acceptance fee for legal services in handling Solidon’s case, and subsequently failing, without valid excuse, to render the services, is a clear violation of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The Supreme Court also found that not only did Macalalad violated Canon 18, he also violated Canon 16 when he failed to account for Solidon’s money. It appears he failed to return Solidon’s downpayment of P50k. A lawyer, when he fails to render legal services, shall immediately account for and promptly return the money he received from his client. Hence, on top of the recommended 3 months suspension, Macalald was suspended for an additional 3 months or for a total of 6 months.
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