In a previous column I said that alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles still has a lot of money, because how else could she afford to hire an expensive lawyer like Lorna Patajo-Kapunan.
I said Kapunan is not exactly a pro-bono lawyer. She goes where the money is. She has lawyered for the likes of Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, Hayden Kho and James Yap, who reportedly got a P60 million settlement from Kris Aquino when they separated through her able lawyering.
Kapunan was also the lawyer of the late Iggy Arroyo’s estranged wife Alicia “Aleli” Morales Arroyo. Recall that when Mike Arroyo was accused of hiding election contributions in a bank account under the name “Jose Pidal,” Iggy quickly admitted the money was his.
Kapunan is also the West Tower Condo legal counsel. She once asked the Lopez-owned First Philippines Industrial Corp for an outright settlement of over P2 billion over its pipeline leak into the condo’s basement while the company was complying with the building’s court-ordered restoration. She would have gotten a hefty percentage from that settlement as well had it pushed through.
Well, Kapunan was reported in the news recently to have withdrawn as Napoles’s legal counsel.
“What does that mean now?” a friend of mine asked me. “Does that mean she is not getting paid? Or is the Napoles case too controversial that she had to withdraw for the sake of her more reputable clients? Do you think it was Napoles who fired her?”
He rattled off the succeeding questions before I could even begin to answer the first one. I’ll tell you what I told him.
First of all, is Kapunan’s withdrawal official or merely a press release or news story? Because Kapunan has to file a formal notice of withdrawal before the court for it to be official. If the court has not received any such motion from Kapunan expressing her intention of withdrawing from the Napoles case, then she is still considered Napoles’s counsel in her serious illegal detention case vs Benhur Luy.
The collaborating counsel for Napoles is Alfredo Villamor. He was the one who cross-examined Benhur Luy in last Wednesday’s hearing, which according to a report in this paper, might have piqued Kapunan as she was the one who wanted to handle the cross examination of Luy.
Napoles reportedly preferred Villamor as Kapunan is prone to grandstanding and would have just prolonged the hearing, perhaps to bask longer in the spotlight, as the hearing was fully covered by media. Kapunan is known to be very ‘showbiz.’
There are many reasons why a lawyer would withdraw from a case but there are also rules for it, according to the code of professional responsibility of lawyers (Canon 22).
There are rules precisely because, ideally, a lawyer should represent a client from the beginning to the conclusion of a legal matter. There is a certain degree of trust and personal information that a client shares with a lawyer that makes the lawyer hard to replace. I am sure Kapunan by now knows sensitive information shared and discussed with her by Napoles. And while this is protected by attorney-client privilege, it is naturally hard to start over with a different lawyer. (Kapunan though, as I mentioned, is not the only lawyer of Napoles.)
Of course, it is not always possible for a lawyer to represent a client until the conclusion of a case, and withdrawals and switches are par for the course, hence the rules for terminating the relationship with a client while a matter is pending.
Yes, money is a valid reason, as per Canon 22. A lawyer may withdraw from a case if the client fails to pay the fees for his or her services or fails to comply with the retainer agreement.
Whether this is the reason Kapunan withdrew, if indeed she did, I don’t know. If it is, that must mean Napoles’s alleged billions are currently tied-up or inaccessible.
Another example of a valid cause for a lawyer’s withdrawal is if the lawyer has knowledge that the client is going to do something criminal or fraudulent. The lawyer has advised the client not to do it but the client insists on committing the crime of fraud.
Lawyers may also withdraw if they cannot work with co-counsel to promote the best interest of their client, when their mental or physical condition makes it difficult for them to represent their clients effectively, and when they are elected or appointed to a public office.
Even if Kapunan might have just felt sullen because she was not allowed by Napoles to handle the cross examination of Luy, as this paper reported, then that is not even among the valid reasons for withdrawal.
Pagtatatampo is not counted.
The rules are there for good reason. While a client has the right to hire and fire her lawyers for any reason she chooses, even for no reason whatsoever, the lawyer, on the other hand, cannot withdraw from the client at whim. That wouldn’t be honest representation.