Legal Ethics

Leonila Licuanan vs Atty. Manuel Melo

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A.C. No. 2361 – 170 SCRA 100 – 252 Phil. 98 – Legal Ethics – Duty to Hold in Trust Client’s Money 

In 1979, Leonila Licuanan won a case against her tenant Aida Pineda whereby Pineda was ordered to pay the rents due to Licuanan. Pineda complied and she started paying the rents to Licuanan’s lawyer, Atty. Manuel Melo. So for 12 months, Melo received the rental payments but he did not turn over the said payments to Licuanan. Licuanan did inquire about said payment but Melo withheld information about the fact that Pineda was actually paying. As a consequence, Licuanan filed a case against Pineda. Pineda in turn filed a damage suit against Licuanan as she claims that the case filed by Licuanan against her is groundless – as she was in fact paying her rents.

Eventually, Licuanan find out that Melo  failed to deliver to her the rents. Licuanan then filed an affidavit complaint against Melo. Melo in his defense said that he withheld information about the rent payments for a year because he merely wanted to surprise Licuanan about the success of the collections. The Solicitor General subsequently recommended the suspension of Melo for not less than one year.

ISSUE: Whether or not Melo should be suspended.

HELD: No. As ruled by the Supreme Court, he should be disbarred. Melo’s retaining of Licuanan’s money for more than a year breached his oath and transgressed the Code of Professional Responsibility. Such action did not merely deprive Licuanan of the use of her money but also caused her to file a groundless suit against Pineda and on top of that, Licuanan had to defend herself in a damage suit filed against her in turn by Pineda. In all, Melo’s actuations make him guilty of deceit, malpractice and gross misconduct in office. He has displayed lack of honesty and good moral character. He has violated his oath not to delay any man for money or malice, besmirched the name of an honorable profession and has proven himself unworthy of the trust reposed in him by law as an officer of the Court. He deserves the severest punishment of disbarment.

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