Public attorneys can’t represent conflicting interests

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Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I sought assistance from the Public Attorney’s Office in our province in the filing of my complaint for VAWC against my former live-in partner. I was assisted by the lawyer and the staff there and I am just waiting for the resolution of my complaint. I understand that once the case is filed in court, the prosecutor will be my lawyer. I was just wondering if my former live-in partner will be able to avail of the services of the PAO once my case is filed in court. Some of my neighbors told me that the PAO lawyers usually represent those who are accused in court. Please enlighten me.
Elfisa

Dear Elfisa,
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) is mandated to provide free legal services to qualified clients in all civil, criminal, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases. But it bears stressing that there are regulations and limitations in the provision of such free legal services. For one, public attorneys are proscribed from handling cases where they would be representing conflicting interests (Section 8 (a), Article II, Public Attorney’s Office Operations Manual).

Apart from the office policy above-mentioned, public attorneys and lawyers in general are prohibited from representing conflicting interests. It is explicitly provided for under Rule 15.03, Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility: “A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.”

Now, how does one determine if a lawyer represents conflicting interests? The Supreme Court has held that:

x x x Jurisprudence has provided three tests in determining whether a lawyer is guilty of representing conflicting interests:
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One test is whether a lawyer is duty-bound to fight for an issue or claim in behalf of one client and, at the same time, to oppose that claim for the other client. Thus, if a lawyer’s argument for one client has to be opposed by that same lawyer in arguing for the other client, there is a violation of the rule.


Another test of inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation would prevent the full discharge of the lawyer’s duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to the client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double-dealing in the performance of that duty. Still another test is whether the lawyer would be called upon in the new relation to use against a former client any confidential information acquired through their connection or previous employment. x x x”(Dr. Lee vs. Atty. Simando, A.C. No. 9537, June 10, 2013, Formerly CBD Case No. 09-2489)

In the situation that you have presented, we submit that our district lawyer may no longer accept your former live-in partner as our client to be represented in court in the same case considering that, as you have mentioned, legal assistance was already extended and rendered in your favor. A conflict of interest will most certainly arise since our district lawyer has obtained not only information from you relative to the said case, but also your trust and confidence that will be violated if we are to take the side of your former live-in partner.

This holds true even if the legal assistance given to you by our district public attorney is terminated in view of the filing of the criminal case in court because, as pointed out by the Supreme Court: “x x x a lawyer should not, even after the severance of the relation with his client, do anything which will injuriously affect his former client in any matter in which he previously represented him nor should he disclose or use any of the client’s confidences acquired in the previous relation. x x x” (Ibid.)

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 dearpao@manilatimes.net

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