445 SCRA 529
Sometime in 1998, complainant Federico Ramos went to respondent Atty. Patricio Ngaseo’s Makati office to engage his services as counsel in a case involving a piece of land in San Carlos, Pangasinan.
Respondent agreed to handle the case for an acceptance fee of P20,000.00, appearance fee of P1,000.00 per hearing and the cost of meals, transportation and other incidental expenses. Complainant alleges that he did not promise to pay the respondent 1,000 sq. m. of land as appearance fees.
On January 29, 2003, complainant received a demand-letter from the respondent asking for the delivery of the 1,000 sq. m. piece of land which he allegedly promised as payment for respondent’s appearance fee. In the same letter, respondent also threatened to file a case in court if the complainant would not confer with him and settle the matter within 30 days.
Whether or not Atty Ngaseo violated the prohibition on Atricle 1491 of the New Civil Code?
Under Article 1491(5) of the Civil Code, lawyers are prohibited from acquiring either by purchase or assignment the property or rights involved which are the object of the litigation in which they intervene by virtue of their profession.
The prohibition on purchase is all embracing to include not only sales to private individuals but also public or judicial sales. The rationale advanced for the prohibition is that public policy disallows the transactions in view of the fiduciary relationship involved, i.e., the relation of trust and confidence and the peculiar control exercised by these persons. It is founded on public policy because, by virtue of his office, an attorney may easily take advantage of the credulity and ignorance of his client and unduly enrich himself at the expense of his client.
However, the said prohibition applies only if the sale or assignment of the property takes place during the pendency of the litigation involving the client’s property. Consequently, where the property is acquired after the termination of the case, no violation of paragraph 5, Article 1491 of the Civil Code attaches.
Invariably, in all cases where Article 1491 was violated, the illegal transaction was consummated with the actual transfer of the litigated property either by purchase or assignment in favor of the prohibited individual. In Biascan v. Lopez, respondent was found guilty of serious misconduct and suspended for 6 months from the practice of law when he registered a deed of assignment in his favor and caused the transfer of title over the part of the estate despite pendency of Special Proceedings No. 98037 involving the subject property.In the consolidated administrative cases of Valencia v. Cabanting,the Court suspended respondent Atty. Arsenio Fer Cabanting for six (6) months from the practice of law when he purchased his client’s property which was still the subject of a pending certiorari proceeding.
In the instant case, there was no actual acquisition of the property in litigation since the respondent only made a written demand for its delivery which the complainant refused to comply. Mere demand for delivery of the litigated property does not cause the transfer of ownership, hence, not a prohibited transaction within the contemplation of Article 1491. Even assuming arguendo that such demand for delivery is unethical, respondent’s act does not fall within the purview of Article 1491.
*Case digest by Bryne Angelo M. Brillantes, JD-IV, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2019-2020