Nov 19, 2020 @ 8:24

SC junks Uniwide chair’s disbarment case versus counsels, says he can’t demand return of more money than he gave

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the disbarment complaint filed by Uniwide Holdings, Inc., chairman Jimmy Gow against lawyers Gertrudo de Leon and Felix Desiderio, Jr., for allegedly refusing to return P1.95-million out of the P3 million he claimed to have personally paid in cash without asking for a receipt.

In a recent 9-page resolution, the SC 2nd Division gave more weight to De Leon and Desiderio’s account that Gow delivered only P2 million.

Of this amount, they returned P1.65 million and explained that the remaining P350,000 was already used to prepare a complaint against Philippine Estates Authority (PEA) officials.

“Evidently, complainant has no basis in asking for the return of an amount which is more than what he actually gave to the respondents,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting.

Gow had accused De Leon and Desiderio of violating Rules 16.01 and 16.03, Canon 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), which require lawyers to hold clients’ money in trust, account for everything received, and deliver the funds and property when due or upon demand.

The embattled businessman claimed that in December 2014, he gave P3 million to De Leon to cover his acceptance fees, the costs of operations, research and leg work, the preparation of pleadings and filing of complainants, and media coverage.

He alleged that the lawyers did not draw up a formal agreement or issue any acknowledgment or official receipt for the cash payments.

Gow said he demanded the return of the payments because the lawyers did not perform any significant work after a lapse of three months. He only disclosed that De Leon and Desiderio on June 1, 2015 issued three postdated checks for the amount of P1.05 million. This would have led to a balance of P1.95 million.

The lawyers, however, accused Gow of maliciously failing to disclose that they returned P300,000 to him on March 4, 2015 and another P300,000 to chief finance officer (CFO) Medardo Deacosta, Jr., on July 3, 2015, which meant they returned a total of P1.65 million.

In rejecting Gow’s claim that he paid P3 million instead of just P2 million, the SC said he only presented his personal notes as evidence, which it deemed to be “manifestly self-serving and undeserving of any weight in law.”

It found it “difficult to believe” that he did not insist on any receipt. It added that his “unexplained delay” in filing the complaint on December 12, 2019, or after three years had passed, “creates suspicion” on his motive.

The SC saw a “veneer of truth” in the lawyers’ allegation that it was actually Gow who refused to sign and document the retainership agreement to avoid leaving document trails that could be used by his creditors.

Worse, the SC said Gow submitted a “dubious affidavit” in Deacosta’s name to support the allegation that the lawyers failed to deliver the output agreed upon. It noted the discrepancy in the signature and the certification of the Notarial Office of Parañaque City that the affidavit did not exist in its records.

It said Gow had “only himself to blame” for failing to prove that he paid more, and stressed it would deny relief to litigants whose conduct had been “inequitable, unfair and dishonest.”

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