I went to the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) last week to ask for help because I want to evict the siblings who are renting my apartment. They have failed to pay several months of rent and I could no longer have them as tenants because I need to prioritize my financial needs. The PAO lawyer said that, as much as she wants to help me, she cannot do so because she already rendered services for my lessees who qualified for PAO services. She was the one who wrote me to go to their office for a pre-litigation conference. But at the time, my lessees wanted to have an amicable settlement concerning their back rentals, which did not materialize because I am not amenable to settlement. She also said she cannot help me because she is not allowed to represent a lessor who wants to evict tenants. Instead, she gave me a denial form and advised me to find a lawyer of my own. Is this correct? I am almost 60 years old and I really want PAO to handle my case.
The lawyer you spoke with is correct in stating that, inasmuch as she would like to render legal services in your favor, the same is, regrettably, not possible considering that she has already rendered legal services to the other party, your lessees, who were assessed as qualified clients of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). Please be advised that PAO lawyers observe the policy of first come, first served. This means, where both the complainant and respondent apply for legal assistance and both are qualified, the first to seek assistance shall be given preference (Section 3 (3.1), Article VIII, PAO Operations Manual).
Equally important is the policy that PAO lawyers are prohibited from representing conflicting interest. This is explicitly provided for under Section 8 (a), Article II of the Public Attorney’s Office Operations Manual. This is also mandated under the Code of Professional Responsibility, which states, “A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts” (Rule 15.03, Canon 15, Code of Professional Responsibility). Since the PAO lawyer has already assisted your lessees on matters involving the same issues and concerns for which you are now seeking assistance, regrettably, she cannot accommodate your request for legal assistance.
Furthermore, we would like to emphasize that PAO lawyers cannot represent landlords or lessors, such as yourself, in the filing of such case in court. This is pursuant to Section 7, Article II of the PAO Operations Manual, which explicitly provides:
Public Attorneys and employees are prohibited from assisting the following: x x x (4) Landlords or lessors of residential lands and/or buildings, with respect to the filing of collection or unlawful detainer suits against their tenants or lessees; x x x
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 email@example.com