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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

SC: LGU lawyers cannot represent local public execs

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The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that legal officers of local government units may not represent public officials of the towns, cities and provinces where they are employed in administrative and criminal cases filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Kho Jr., the SC warned that the scheme would constitute “a conflict of interest and amounts to unauthorized practice of law,” and the erring legal officer can be

The high court made the ruling in resolving the disbarment case filed against lawyer Richard Enojo.

However, the SC did not order EnojoÂ’s disbarment or suspension from the repetition of the same offense would be dealt with more severely.

Court records showed that Enojo was appointed legal officer of Negros Oriental in January 2011. In the criminal and administrative cases filed against former Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo, Enojo appeared as counsel for the late governor.

When the cases against Degamo reached the Sandiganbayan, Enojo also represented Degamo. His legal representation was opposed by OMB prosecutors. The Sandiganbayan ordered him to desist from representing Degamo.

The administrative cases against Degamo reached the Court of Appeals (CA) and the SC where Enojo also represented the former governor as counsel. It was when the cases reached the SC that the disbarment of Enojo was filed.

On June 4, 2018, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) directed Enojo to answer the complaint. Enojo told the IBP-CBD that under the Local Government Code (LGC), the prohibition from appearing as counsel in criminal cases against an officer or employee of the national and local government for offenses committed in relation to their office is imposed, not on appointive legal officers, but on Sanggunian members, who are elective public officials.

Enojo also argued that his functions as provincial legal officer, the LGC authorized him to “defend the LGU’s officers and employees who are sued in relation to or affecting the discharge of their official functions.”

On June 4, 2020, the IBP-CBD recommended the dismissal of the complaint against Enojo for lack of merit. On March 13, 2021, the IBPÂ’s Board of Governors approved the recommendation.

In its decision made public on March 20, 2024, the SC overturned the IBP’s recommendation.

“Here, it is worthy to reiterate that respondent (Enojo) represented 226395, 228238, and 228325, Degamo was charged with several administrative offenses. In the cases that reached the Sandiganbayan, Degamo was criminally charged with, among others, Malversation of Public Funds and violation of Section 3( e) of RA 3019 (the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act),” the SC said.

“Verily, Degamo’s alleged acts constituting those administrative government unit which he serves; and as such, falls beyond the ambit of respondent’s functions as provincial legal officer,” the high

“Thus, respondent’s act of representing Degamo in these cases administratively liable, and accordingly sanctioned,” the SC declared.

The SC noted that at the time the petition to disbar was filed, respondent was a government lawyer, employed as provincial legal officer of Negros Oriental.

However, the fact that he is in government service will not preclude the Court from disciplining him as a member of the Bar, should circumstances so warrant.

“It bears emphasizing that the Code of Professional Responsibility government service. In fact, by the express provision of Canon 6 thereof, the rules governing the conduct of lawyers ‘shall apply to lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks.’

“Thus, where a lawyer’s misconduct as a government official is of such delinquency, then he may be disciplined as a member of the bar on such grounds,” the SC emphasized.

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