A.C. No. 12768. June 23, 2020 (Case Brief / Digest)

**Title:** *Bondoc vs. Licudine: A Case on Professional Responsibility and Trust Mismanagement*

In 2015, Felicitas H. Bondoc, a resident of Alberta, Canada, sought legal assistance from Atty. Marlow L. Licudine, a practicing attorney in Baguio City, Philippines, for filing an annulment case against her husband. Bondoc, through a representative, paid Licudine CAD$2,000.00 as an initial down payment for his legal services. Over time, Bondoc, unable to receive updates on the case and discovering unauthorized disclosure of her personal information, decided to terminate Licudine’s engagement and demanded a refund of the legal fees.

Despite multiple demands and follow-up attempts made by Bondoc and her son, Conrad H. Bautista, Licudine failed to return any portion of the fees. This inaction prompted Bondoc to file an administrative complaint against Licudine before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Commission on Bar Discipline for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Lawyer’s Oath, and Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Licudine, in his belated answer, claimed that the fees were used for the preparation of the annulment petition and cited various reasons for his failure to refund the money.

The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, upon review, found Licudine liable and recommended his suspension from the practice of law. The IBP Board of Governors adopted this recommendation with modifications, further imposing additional penalties on Licudine.

1. Whether Licudine violated the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility by failing to return the legal fees paid to him despite not rendering the agreed-upon legal services.
2. Whether Licudine’s actions amounted to a violation of the trust and confidence reposed in him by his client.

**Court’s Decision:**
The Supreme Court agreed with the IBP’s finding and held that Licudine violated the Lawyer’s Oath, Canons 1 and 16, and Rules 1.01, 16.01, 16.02, and 16.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The Court emphasized that a lawyer must act with competence, diligence, and dedication to the client’s cause, reflecting honesty, integrity, and fairness in all transactions. By failing to file the annulment case and return the unearned fees, Licudine breached these obligations, justifying his suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years and ordering him to return the full amount of CAD$2,000.00 with legal interest.

The case reiterated the principle that lawyers hold money paid to them by clients for specific purposes in trust and are duty-bound to return any unearned fees upon the termination of their engagement. Misappropriation or failure to return such funds constitutes a gross violation of professional ethics and erodes public confidence in the legal profession.

**Class Notes:**
– Ethical standards demand lawyers to serve with competence, diligence, and integrity.
– Money received for a specific legal service must be returned if the service is undelivered.
– Lawyers must maintain transparency and accountability for clients’ funds.
– Violation of the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility attracts disciplinary action, including suspension and fines.

**Historical Background:**
This case underscores the stringent ethical standards expected of lawyers in the Philippines, reflecting on the legal profession’s fundamental tenets of trust, accountability, and responsibility. It exemplifies consequences faced by lawyers who fail to uphold these principles, serving as a cautionary tale for legal practitioners on the importance of ethical conduct and client trust management.


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