Velez vs De Vera (496 SCRA 345)

Velez vs De Vera
496 SCRA 345 [ÀC No. 6697 July 25, 2006]

Facts: An administrative case against Atty. de Vera was filed before the State Bar of California, docketed then as Adm. Case No. 86-0-18429. It arose from an insurance case Atty. de Vera handled involving Julius Willis, III who figured in an automobile accident in 1986. Atty. de Vera was authorized by the elder Willis (father of Julius who was given authority by the son to control the case because the latter was then studying in San Diego California) for the release of the funds in settlement of the case. Atty. de Vera received a check in settlement of the case which he then deposited to his personal account;  The Hearing referee in the said administrative case recommended that Atty. de Vera be suspended from the practice of law for three years; Atty. de Vera resigned from the California Bar which resignation was accepted by the Supreme Court of California. Atty. de Vera vehemently insists that the foregoing facts do not prove that he misappropriated his client’s funds as the latter’s father (the elder Willis) gave him authority to use the same and that, unfortunately, the hearing officer did not consider this explanation notwithstanding the fact that the elder Willis testified under oath that he “expected de Vera might use the money for a few days. Petitioner claims that such information was concealed by the respondent. Such and other circumstances which the IBP board deems that respondent is not fit to be a member of the board, hence his removal was sought.

Issue: Whether or not a member of the Philippine Bar, who is concomitantly an attorney in a foreign jurisdiction and who was suspended from the practice of law in said foreign jurisdiction, can be sanctioned as member of the Philippine Bar for the same infraction committed in the foreign jurisdiction.

Held: No. We take the issue in Atty. Maquera one notch higher in the case of Atty. de Vera who was admitted to the practice of law in a foreign jurisdiction (State Bar of California, U.S.A.) and against whom charges were filed in connection with his practice in said jurisdiction. However, unlike the case of Atty. Maquera, no final judgment for suspension or disbarment was meted against Atty. de Vera despite a recommendation of suspension of three years as he surrendered his license to practice law before his case could be taken up by the Supreme Court of California.

In Maquera, we emphasized that the judgment of suspension against a Filipino lawyer in a foreign jurisdiction does not automatically result in his suspension or disbarment in the Philippines as the acts giving rise to his suspension are not grounds for disbarment and suspension in this jurisdiction. Judgment of suspension against a Filipino lawyer may transmute into a similar judgment of suspension in the Philippines only if the basis of the foreign court’s action includes any of the grounds for disbarment or suspension in this jurisdiction. We likewise held that the judgment of the foreign court merely constitutes prima facie evidence of unethical acts as lawyer.

A foreign judgment is presumed to be valid and binding in the country from which it comes, until a contrary showing, on the basis of a presumption of regularity of proceedings and the giving of due notice in the foreign forum.

In herein case, considering that there is technically no foreign judgment to speak of, the recommendation by the hearing officer of the State Bar of California does not constitute prima facie evidence of unethical behavior by Atty. de Vera. Complainant must prove by substantial evidence the facts upon which the recommendation by the hearing officer was based. If he is successful in this, he must then prove that these acts are likewise unethical under Philippine law.

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