PAO lawyer dismissed for charging clients legal fees
MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office for violating PAO's legal mandate to provide legal services for free.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in a statement on Thursday, February 2, that Jennifer Garcia-Laudencia of PAO San Jose in Occidental Mindoro is guilty of grave misconduct for charging P6,000 to prepare her clients' counter-affidavit, and P3,000 for preparing the rejoinder.
The complaint was filed by spouses Rodolfo and Maira Abrea. They also alleged that Laudencia tried to solicit P25,000 from them, supposedly to pay off the prosecutor to get their charges dismissed.
In her counter-affidavit, Laudencia said the Abreas' allegations are unsubstantiated.
State investigators said there is reasonable ground to charge Laudencia of the misconduct.
"The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied when there is reasonable ground to believe that a person is responsible for the misconduct complained of, even if such evidence might not be overwhelming or even preponderant, as in the present case," the Ombudsman said in the resolution.
Another basis for her dismissal is the complaint that she gave legal services to a person who was not an indigent. PAO lawyers are mandated by law to assist, free of charge, indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative.and other quasi-judicial cases.
Laudencia represented a certain Mike Tiu Santiago even when he didn't pass the "indigency test." Laudencia said Santiago possessed an affidavit of indigency, but the Ombudsman said that was not enough.
"The PAO Operations Manual requires submission of proof of income such as income tax returns, or certificate of indigency from the Department of Social Welfare and Development or the Barangay Chairman,” said Morales.
Laudencia was slapped with several complaints that sought her dismissmal, including giving legal assistance to a drug inmate at the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm (SPPF), and that she assisted SPPF employees even when she blocked their impending relief for the death of an inmate inside prison.
Other complainants alleged that these indicate that she is a protector of inmates and guards inside SPPF responsible for the proliferation of drugs inside the prison.
The Ombudsman said these other allegations, however, were unsubstantiated.
This is one of the many allegations of corruption against lawyers and court employees. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno had promised to clean their ranks.
The Supreme Court has disbarred 40 lawyers as of September 2016. It has also suspended 224 lawyers and 33 notarial practices.
From 2012 to 2016, SC has also dismissed 116 court employees, and suspended 227. – Rappler.com