CASE BRIEF 2004-201

CASE: Milagros N. Aldovino, Virgilio Nicodemus, Angela N. Dela Cruz, Julita N. Soco, Magdalena N. Talens and Teodoro S. Nicodemus vs. Atty. Pedro C. Pujalte, Jr. (A.C. No. 5082 February 17, 2004)

PONENTE: Sandoval-Gutierrez, J.:

SUBJECT: Legal Ethics: Canon 16, Code of Professional Responsibility

FACTS:        Milagros Aldovino et. al.  are brothers and sisters. They hired the services of respondent Atty. Pujalte, Jr. as their counsel in a suit for specific performance to compel their sister, Loreto Nicodemus Pulumbarit, to deliver to them their shares in the estate of their deceased mother.

The trial court issued an order directing both contending counsels to oversee the distribution of the shares to the heirs to the savings account of the decedent.

The Branch Clerk of Court gave to Atty. Pujalte the amount of P1,001,332.26, corresponding to the shares of Milagros Aldovino et. al. upon his representation that he is authorized to receive the money.

However, Milagros Aldovino et. al. did not receive their shares from Atty. Pujalte despite repeated demands. Thus, they engaged the services of Atty. Francisco I. Chavez who sent a letter to Atty. Pujalte demanding that the amount entrusted to him.

Atty. Pujalte wired Atty. Chavez that he will deliver to Milagros Aldovino et. al.  their respective shares “tomorrow morning.” However, what he delivered to herein Milagros Aldovino et. al.  was only P751,332.26, instead of P1,001,332.26 because he deducted P250,000.00 therefrom. He claimed that this amount is his attorney’s fees per his agreement with Milagros Aldovino.

ISSUE:

What is the liability and duty of Atty. Pujalte as lawyer of Milagros Aldovino et. al.?

RULING: Atty. Pujalte violated Canon 16, Code of Professional Responsibility.

Canon 16 and its Rule 16.03 provide:

“CANON 16 – A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENT THAT MAY COME INTO HIS POSSESSION.

“x x x x x x x x x

“Rule 16.03 – A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand. However, he shall have a lien over the funds and may apply so much thereof as may be necessary to satisfy his lawful fees and disbursements, giving notice promptly thereafter to his client. He shall also have a lien to the same extent on all judgments and executions he has secured for his client as provided for in the Rules of Court.”

Atty. Pujalte has no right to retain or appropriate unilaterally as lawyer’s lien,  the sum of P250,000.00. There was no agreement between him and Milagros Aldovino et. al.  that he could retain P250,000.00 as attorney’s fees. In fact, he did not adduce any proof of such agreement. His mere allegation or claim is not proof. Obviously, his failure to return the money to Milagros Aldovino et. al.  upon demand gave rise to the presumption that he misappropriated it in violation of the trust reposed on him. (Barnachea vs. Quiocho, A.C. No. 5925, March 11, 2003)

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand. However, he shall have a lien over the funds and may apply so much thereof as may be necessary to satisfy his lawful fees and disbursements, giving notice promptly thereafter to his client. He shall also have a lien to the same extent on all judgments and executions he has secured for his client as provided for in the Rules of Court.

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