My former girlfriend filed a complaint against me for economic and psychological abuse. A lawyer from your office wrote to me about a conference. So I went there, but unfortunately, my former girlfriend and I did not reach any settlement. Now, the case is in court. I went back to your office to ask for assistance since I noticed that the lawyer of my former girlfriend is not the PAO lawyer who called the conference, but I was denied due to some conflict of interest .The thing is, I do not have work right now, and I am really hoping your office can aid me.
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) is the principal law office of the government and is mandated to render free legal services to indigent and other qualified clients relating to all kinds of cases, be it criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases (Section 2, Republic Act No. 9406).
However, the rendition of free legal services by the PAO employees is not without limitations. One of the set of rules and regulations our employees strictly adhere to is our PAO Operations Manual. As stated therein, Public Attorneys shall not extend legal assistance where they would be representing conflicting interests, among others (Section 8, Article II, PAO Operations Manual). As defined by the Supreme Court: “There is conflict of interest when a lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two or more opposing parties. The test is “whether or not in behalf of one client, it is the lawyer’s duty to fight for an issue or claim, but it is his duty to oppose it for the other client. In brief, if he argues for one client, this argument will be opposed by him when he argues for the other client.” This rule covers not only cases in which confidential communications have been confided, but also those in which no confidence has been bestowed or will be used. Also, there is conflict of interests if the acceptance of the new retainer will require the attorney to perform an act which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation to use against his first client any knowledge acquired through their connection. Another test of the inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an attorney from the full discharge of his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double dealing in the performance thereof ” (Hornilla vs. Atty. Salunat, A.C. No. 5804, July 1, 2003, 405 SCRA 220; Samson vs. Atty. Era,A.C. No. 6664, July 16, 2013).
In the situation that you have presented before us, we believe that it is not only proper and ethical, but likewise, appropriate pursuant to our PAO Operations Manual, for our lawyer to decline rendering legal services to you insofar as representing you in the case filed against you by your former girlfriend. There is a clear conflict of interest considering that your present case in court involves the same parties and issues that were brought before our lawyer initially. To represent you will entail divulging information and communication as well as violate the confidence which your former girlfriend has conferred to our lawyer. Such denial will likewise stand even if you have no source of income right now as the matter in point here is not your qualification as an indigent client, but the mandate of our office not to represent clients with conflicting interest.
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org