SC suspends Bacolod lawyer who made secretary sign pleading

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MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has suspended a Bacolod City lawyer from legal practice for one year for letting his secretary sign a pleading.

The high court’s Second Division, chaired by Justice Antonio Carpio, found Charlie Bancolo administratively liable for violating Rule 9.01 of Canon 9 of the lawyers’ Code of Professional Responsibility, which prohibits legal practitioners from “delegating to any unqualified person the performance of any task which by law may only be performed by a member of the bar.”

“[Bancolo] is hereby suspended from practice of law for one year upon finality of this decision. He is warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely,” the Court said in a nine-page decision penned by Carpio and dated March 20.

The other division members, Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, concurred in the ruling.

According to the records of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which conducted the initial investigation, a disbarment case against Bancolo and his law firm partner Janus Jarder was initiated by Sugar Regulatory Administration employees Rodrigo Tapay and Arturo Rustia in November 2005.

Another SRA employee, Nehimias Divinagracia Jr. previously sued Tapay and Rustia in August 2004 before the Office of the Ombudsman for the usurpation of authority, falsification of a public document, and graft and corruption. The complaint was signed by Bancolo as the lawyer of Divinagracia.

Rustia and Bancolo had a chance encounter days later, during which Rustia expressed his anger at Bancolo for filing Divinagracia’s case against Rustia and Tapay. Bancolo then filed an affidavit with the Ombudsman, denying that he signed Divinagracia’s complaint. This resulted in the Ombudsman provisionally dismissing the cases against Rustia and Tapay in March 2005 and initiating a case of falsification and dishonesty against Divinagracia.

Divinagracia then fired Bancolo and presented before the Ombudsman an affidavit from a legal assistant of Bancolo stating that the complaint against Rustia and Tapay was indeed signed by the secretary at Bancolo and Jarder’s law office. The Ombudsman later issued a resolution dismissing the complaint against Divinagracia.

Responding to the disbarment complaint filed by Rustia and Tapay before the IBP, the two lawyers admitted that the law firm had indeed handled Divinigracia’s complaint and that it was Bancolo who handled the case.

Bancolo alleged that after being informed of the assignment of cases, he ordered his staff to prepare and draft all the necessary pleadings and documents. However, citing some “minor lapses,” Bancolo told the IBP that he allowed the pleadings and communications be signed in his name by the secretary.

In April 2007, lawyer Lolita Quisumbing of the IBP commission on bar discipline found Bancolo and Jarder guilty of violating the lawyers’ Code of Professional Responsibility. She recommended that Bancolo be suspended from law practice of two years and Jarder be admonished.

The IBP board of governors partly approved Quisumbing’s recommendation five months later. The board lowered Bancolo’s suspension to just one year and dismissed the complaint against Jarder for lack of merit. The IBP finalized its decision and dismissed all motions for recommendations on June 9, 2012.

The Supreme Court, reviewing the IBP’s ruling, said it “agree[s] with the findings and recommendations of the IBP board and find reasonable grounds to hold respondent Attorney Bancolo administratively liable.”

The justices pointed out that Bancolo had categorically admitted his fault, adding, “Undoubtedly, Attorney Bancolo violated the Code by allowing a non-lawyer to affix his signature to a pleading. This violation is an act of falsehood which is a ground for disciplinary action.”

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