By Therese Mikaela Maravilla JD
A lawyer must always account all the money or properties given by the client. Funds received from the client must be separated from personal accounts to avoid fraudulent instances. It is recommended for a lawyer to provide the client with receipts of the transactions made to provide full disclosure regarding the payments made. It would also be easier for both the lawyer and the client to track the transactions made when the money or property is well accounted for.
This canon is tested when a lawyer could safely secure the money or properties handed by the client. For example, a lawyer receives money from a client for the payment of SSS contribution. Upon receiving the money, the lawyer deposited it in his personal bank account – together with his personal money – for safekeeping before the due date of the payment arrives. On the date of payment, the lawyer forgot to pay the amount due and was not able to provide a receipt to his client. The lawyer must always adhere to the rules provided by Canon 16 wherein he should account the funds given by the client and it must be separated from personal matters. Non-compliance for such rules could be a ground for a lawyer’s disbarment.
MENESES v. MACALINO
(A.C. No. 6551, February 27, 2006)
Edgardo P. Meneses, the complainant, filed a disbarment case for violation of lawyer’s oath against Atty. Rodolfo P. Macalino, the respondent. Meneses alleged that Atty. Macalino offered his legal services to aid the complainant in claiming his car from the Bureau of Customs for a package deal amounting to 60, 000.00 pesos. Complainant paid to respondent lawyer the initial amounts of 10, 000.00 pesos and 30, 000.00 pesos on two separate instances but without the issuance of a receipt. Respondent promised to provide complainant with a receipt from the Bureau of Customs. After receiving the amount of 40, 000.00 pesos, respondent failed to give complainant an update regarding the matter. Complainant repeatedly went to respondent’s house to inquire on the status of the release of the car. Complainant was repeatedly told that respondent was not around and to just return another day. That scenario went on for more than a year.
Meneses went to the National Bureau of Investigation to file a complaint for estafa against Atty. Macalino. The NBI, through Director Mariano M. Mison, found insufficient evidence to prosecute respondent lawyer for estafa. The NBI then advised complainant to file a complaint for disbarment against respondent.
The Supreme Court found Atty. Rodolfo Macalino guilty of violation of Canon 16, Rule 16.01, Rule 16.03, and Rule 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Respondent lawyer was suspended from the practice of law for one year effective upon finality of the decision. Respondent failed to inform and to respond to the inquiries of the complainant regarding the status of the case. As it was held in Tolentino v. Mangapit, the relationship of lawyer-client being one of confidence, it is the lawyer’s duty to keep the client regularly and fully updated on the developments of the client’s case. Respondent also failed to account and return the money he received from complainant.