The case of ELESIO C. PORMENTO, SR. vs. ATTY. ELIAS A. PONTEVEDRA, A.C. No. 5128, March 31, 2005 involves the doctrine against conflict of interest.
It applies the provisions of Rule 15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides that “a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.”
The provisions must be read in conjunction with Canon 21 of the same Code which enjoins a lawyer to preserve the confidences and secrets of his clients even after the attorney-client relation is terminated. Rule 21.02, Canon 21 specifically requires that “a lawyer shall not, to the disadvantage of his client, use information acquired in the course of employment, nor shall he use the same to his own advantage or that of a third person, unless the client with full knowledge of the circumstances consents thereto.”
In addition, Canon 6 of the Canons of Professional Ethics states that “it is the duty of a lawyer at the time of retainer to disclose to the client all the circumstances of his relations to the parties and any interest in or connection with the controversy, which might influence the client in the selection of counsel.”
The cannon further provides that “It is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests, except by express consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts”. Within the meaning of the canon, “a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, in behalf of one client, it is his duty to contend for that which duty to another client requires him to oppose.”
Furthermore, the aforecited canon provides that “the obligation to represent the client with undivided fidelity and not to divulge his secrets or confidences forbids also the subsequent acceptance of retainers or employment from others in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed.”
The doctrinal statements of the Philippine Supreme Court in the aforecited case, the crucial issue of which referred to the doctrine against conflict of interests, are quoted hereinbelow, thus:
1. Jurisprudence instructs that there is a representation of conflicting interests if the acceptance of the new retainer will require the attorney to do anything which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation, to use against his first client any knowledge acquired through their connection. Another test to determine if there is a representation of conflicting interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an attorney from the full discharge of his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double dealing in the performance thereof.
2. A lawyer is forbidden from representing a subsequent client against a former client when the subject matter of the present controversy is related, directly or indirectly, to the subject matter of the previous litigation in which he appeared for the former client. Conversely, he may properly act as counsel for a new client, with full disclosure to the latter, against a former client in a matter wholly unrelated to that of the previous employment, there being in that instance no conflict of interests. Where, however, the subject matter of the present suit between the lawyer’s new client and his former client is in some way connected with that of the former client’s action, the lawyer may have to contend for his new client that which he previously opposed as counsel for the former client or to use against the latter information confided to him as his counsel.
3. The reason for the prohibition is found in the relation of attorney and client, which is one of trust and confidence of the highest degree. A lawyer becomes familiar with all the facts connected with his client’s case. He learns from his client the weak points of the action as well as the strong ones. Such knowledge must be considered sacred and guarded with care. No opportunity must be given him to take advantage of the client’s secrets. A lawyer must have the fullest confidence of his client. For if the confidence is abused, the profession will suffer by the loss thereof.
4. The proscription against representation of conflicting interests finds application where the conflicting interests arise with respect to the same general matter and is applicable however slight such adverse interest may be. In essence, what a lawyer owes his former client is to maintain inviolate the client’s confidence or to refrain from doing anything which will injuriously affect him in any matter in which he previously represented him.
5. In the present case, we find no conflict of interests when respondent represented herein complainant’s nephew and other members of his family in the ejectment case, docketed as Civil Case No. 528, and in the criminal complaint, denominated as I.S. Case No. 99-188, filed by herein complainant against them. The only established participation respondent had with respect to the parcel of land purchased by complainant, is that he was the one who notarized the deed of sale of the said land. On that basis alone, it does not necessarily follow that respondent obtained any information from herein complainant that can be used to the detriment of the latter in the ejectment case he filed.
6. Nonetheless, be that as it may, it cannot be denied that when respondent was the counsel of complainant in Civil Case No. 1648, he became privy to the documents and information that complainant possessed with respect to the said parcel of land. Hence, whatever may be said as to whether or not respondent utilized against complainant any information given to him in a professional capacity, the mere fact of their previous relationship should have precluded him from appearing as counsel for the opposing side. As we have previously held:
7. The relations of attorney and client is [are] founded on principles of public policy, on good taste. The question is not necessarily one of the rights of the parties, but as to whether the attorney has adhered to proper professional standard. With these thoughts in mind, it behooves attorneys, like Caesar’s wife, not only to keep inviolate the client’s confidence, but also to avoid the appearance of treachery and double-dealing. Only thus can litigants be encouraged to entrust their secrets to their attorneys which is of paramount importance in the administration of justice.
8. Communications between attorney and client are, in a great number of litigations, a complicated affair, consisting of entangled relevant and irrelevant, secret and well known facts. In the complexity of what is said in the course of dealings between an attorney and client, inquiry of the nature suggested would lead to the revelation, in advance of the trial, of other matters that might only further prejudice the complainant’s cause.
9. Moreover, nothing on record would show that respondent fully apprised complainant and his new clients and secured or at least tried to secure their consent when he took the defense of the accused in Criminal Case No. 3159.
10. Respondent contends that he handled the defense of the accused in the subject criminal case for humanitarian reasons and with the honest belief that there exists no conflict of interests. However, the rule is settled that the prohibition against representation of conflicting interests applies although the attorney’s intentions and motives were honest and he acted in good faith. Moreover, the fact that the conflict of interests is remote or merely probable does not make the prohibition inoperative.
The respondent Atty. Elias A. Pontevedra was found GUILTY of representing conflicting interests and was FINED in the amount of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos. He was warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Tabang vs. Gacott, AC No. 6490, September 29, 2004, citing Arandia vs. Magalong, 386 SCRA 187, 191 (2002). Artezuela vs. Maderazo, 381 SCRA 419, 424 (2002). A.C. No. 5737, October 25, 2004, citing Teodosio vs. Nava, 357 SCRA 406 (2001). Abaqueta vs. Florido, 395 SCRA 569 (2003); Hornilla vs. Salunat, 405 SCRA 220, 223 (2003). Santos, Sr. vs. Beltran, 418 SCRA 17, 25-26 (2003). Agpalo, Legal Ethics, 6th Edition, 1997, p. 224. 287 SCRA 443 (1998). Nakpil vs. Valdes, 286 SCRA 758, 771 (1998). Artezuela vs. Maderazo, 381 SCRA 419, 426-427 (2002). 84 Phil. 569 (1949). Maturan vs. Gonzales, 287 SCRA 443, 446 (1998); Artezuela vs. Maderazo, supra, p. 426. San Jose vs. Cruz, 57 Phil. 792, 794 (1949); Natan vs. Capule, 91 Phil. 640, 648 (1952). 336 SCRA 237, 240 (2000). Gamilla vs. Mariño, Jr., 399 SCRA 308, 321 (2003).
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