Legal Ethics

Atty. Manuel Fernandez vs Judge Eloy Bello

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GR No. L-14277 – 107 Phil. 1140 – Legal Ethics – Duty to the Court – Strong Language by a Lawyer against a Judge

Atty. Manuel Fernandez won a civil case for his client Florentino Perreyras however, Florentino died without paying Fernandez. Fernandez then assisted the eldest child of Perreyras in a guardianship proceeding so that the eldest may properly dispose of their property in order to pay their father’s indebtedness. Eventually, Florentino’s nipa land was sold for P1,000.00. Thereafter, P200.00 was paid to Atty. Fernandez for his legal services both for Florentino and his heirs. Judge Eloy Bello found out about said payment and so directed Fernandez to explain (because under the guardianship,  proceeds of any sale must first be accounted for and no payment to creditors shall be made without prior authorization from the court).

In the course of the proceeding however, Judge Bello stated that Fernandez does not deserve the P200.00 attorney’s fees because Fernandez is a “below average standard of a lawyer.” Fernandez then responded with strong language (which were not specified).

ISSUE: Whether or not the strong language used by Fernandez against the judge is proper.

HELD: The Supreme Court seem to say yes. The Supreme Court stated that the strong language used by Fernandez must have been impelled by the same language used by Bello in characterizing the act of Fernandez as “anomalous and unbecoming” and in charging him of obtaining his fee “through maneuvers of documents from the guardian-petitioner.” If anyone is to blame for the language used by Fernandez, it is Bello himself who has made insulting remarks in his orders, which must have provoked Fernandez. If a judge desires not to be insulted he should start using temperate language himself; he who sows the wind will reap a storm.

On the issue of attorney’s fees, the opinion of a judge as to the capacity of a lawyer is not the basis of the right to a lawyer’s fee. It is the contract between the lawyer and client and the nature of the services rendered.

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