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Digest: Jimenez v. Francisco

Jimenez v. Francisco, A.C. No. 10548, December 10, 2014
A.C. No. 10548.December 10, 2014

Facts: Complainant was shocked upon reading the allegations in the complaint for estafa filed by Jimenez against her. She felt even more betrayed when she read the affidavit of Atty. Francisco, on whom she relied as her personal lawyer and Clarion’s corporate counsel and secretary of Clarion. This prompted her to file a disciplinary case against Atty. Francisco for representing conflicting interests. According to her, she usually conferred with Atty. Francisco regarding the legal implications of Clarion’s transactions. More significantly, the principal documents relative to the sale and transfer of Clarion’s property were all prepared and drafted by Atty. Francisco or the members of his law office. Atty. Francisco was the one who actively participated in the transactions involving the sale of the Forbes property. Without admitting the truth of the allegations in his affidavit, complainant argued that its execution clearly betrayed the trust and confidence she reposed on him as a lawyer. For this reason, complainant prayed for the disbarment of Atty. Francisco.

Issue: whether or not Atty. Francisco violated the rule on conflict of interests.

Ruling: Yes.

First, complainant’s claim of being Atty. Francisco’s client remains unsubstantiated, considering its detailed refutation. All that the complaint alleged was that Atty. Francisco was Clarion’s legal counsel and that complainant sought advice and requested documentation of several transfers of shares and the sale of the Forbes property. This was only successful in showing that Atty. Francisco, indeed, drafted the documents pertaining to the transaction and that he was retained as legal counsel of Clarion. There was no detailed explanation as to how she supposedly engaged the services of Atty. Francisco as her personal counsel and as to what and how she communicated with the latter anent the dealings she had entered into. With the complaint lacking in this regard, the unrebutted answer made by Atty. Francisco, accompanied with a detailed narrative of his engagement as counsel of Jimenez and Clarion, would have to prevail.

Second, there is a stark disparity inthe amount of narrative details presented by the parties. Atty. Francisco’s claim thathe was the counsel of Clarion and Jimenez, and not of the complainant, was clearly established in a sworn statement executed by Jimenez himself. Complainant’s evidence pales in comparison with her claims of being the client of Atty. Francisco couched in general terms that lacked particularity of circumstances.

Third, noteworthy is the fact that complainant opted not to file a reply to Atty. Francisco’s answer. This could have given her opportunity to present evidence showing their professional relationship. She also failed to appear during the mandatory conference with the IBP-CBD without even updating her residential address on record. Her participation in the investigation of the case apparently ended at its filing.

In suspension or disbarment proceedings, lawyers enjoy the presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof rests upon the complainant to clearly prove the allegations in the complaint by preponderant evidence. Preponderance of evidence means that the evidence adduced by one side is, as a whole, superior to or has greater weight than that of the other. It means evidence which is more convincing to the court as worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto. Under Section 1 of Rule 133, in determining whether or not there is preponderance of evidence, the court may consider the following: (a) all the facts and circumstances of the case; (b) the witnesses’ manner of testifying, their intelligence, their means and opportunity of knowing the facts to which they are testifying, the nature of the facts towhich they testify, the probability or improbability of their testimony; (c) the witnesses’ interest or want of interest, and also their personal credibility so far as the same may ultimately appear in the trial; and (d) the number of witnesses, although it does not mean that preponderance is necessarily with the greater number.

Markedly, Atty. Francisco could have prevented his entanglement with this fiasco among the members of Jimenez’s family by taking an upfront and candid stance in dealing with Jimenez’s children and complainant. He could have been staunch in reminding the latter that his tasks were performed in his capacity as legal counsel for Clarion and Jimenez. Be that as it may, Atty. Francisco’s indiscretion does not detract the Court from finding that the totality of evidence presented by the complainant miserably failed to discharge the burden of proving that Atty. Francisco was her lawyer. At most, he served as the legal counsel of Clarion and, based on the affirmation presented, of Jimenez. Suffice it to say, complainant failed to establish that Atty. Francisco committed a violation of the rule on conflict of interests.

Consequently, the rule on lawyer-client privilege does not apply. In Mercado v. Vitriolo,

In fine, the factors are as follows: 1. (1) There exists an attorney-client relationship, or a prospective attorney-client relationship, and it is by reason of this relationship that the client made the communication; (2) The client made the communication in confidence; and (3) The legal advice must be sought from the attorney in his professional capacity.           

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