CA affirms dismissal of PAO lawyer for demanding fee from indigent clients

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The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the dismissal of public attorney Jennifer Garcia-Laudencia from service for demanding a fee from an indigent couple for working on their case.

In a recent 30-page decision, the CA Special 9th Division denied Laudencia’s petition challenging the Ombudsman’s November 25, 2016 administrative ruling that found her guilty of grave misconduct.

The court said the Occidental Mindoro district attorney failed to refute the allegation of spouses Maira and Rodolfo Abrea that they were forced to pay P6,000 and give two chickens as payment for the preparation of their counter-affidavit and rejoinder.

“She willfullly violated her mandate to render her services for free and to refrain from demanding for and accepting gifts. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Ombudsman correctly found Laundencia liable for grave misconduct and that the penalty of dismissal was properly imposed against her,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Walter Ong.

The court noted that even the testimonies of Laudencia’s own witnesses proved that she received chickens on March 4, 2013, although PG1 Richard Buenaflor claimed the lawyer instructed Rodolfo to get the birds from him.

The other witnesses testified that they never heard Laudencia charge the fee while they were at her office on the morning of Jan. 28, 2013. But, this did “not squarely refute” the Abreas’ statement that the demand was made that afternoon.

The court stressed that Section 3 of Republic Act Number 9406 mandated PAO lawyers to “render, free of charge, legal representation, assistance, and counselling to indigent persons.”

Similarly, Articles 4 and 5, Chapter XV on the Rule of Conduct of the 2016 PAO Manual of Operations deemed the acceptance of gifts to be punishable.

The Ombudsman originally also held Laudencia liable for representing Mike Tiu Santiago when he sued his stepmother over several properties, including a Toyota Fortuner.

The court, however, rejected the findings since Santiago submitted an affidavit of indigency and a barangay certification of indigency in seeking PAO representation. It said these documents enjoyed the presumption of regularity.

Even so, Laudencia’s offense in the case of the Abrea spouses was serious enough on its own to still warrant her dismissal.

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