Almirante: CONTINGENCY ATTORNEY’S FEES

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By Dominador Almirante

Labor case Digest

Friday, May 2, 2014


PETITIONER Czarina T. Malvar filed a complaint for illegal suspension and illegal dismissal against respondents Kraft Food Philippines, Inc. (KFPI) and/or Bienvenido
Bautista.

While her appeal was pending in the Supreme Court, she and respondents entered into a compromise agreement, whereby she was paid P40,000,000 in addition to the P14,252,192.12 earlier paid to her. She later filed a motion to dismiss/withdraw case but before it could be acted upon, a motion for intervention to protect attorney’s rights was filed by the law firm of Dasal, Llasos and Associates, through its Of counsel, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Josue N. Bellosillo. The motion sought, among others, that both Malvar and KFPI be held and ordered to pay jointly and severally the intervenor’s contingent fees.

In opposing the motion, Malvar claimed that the intervenor lacked the legal capacity to intervene because it had ceased to exist after Atty. Marwil N. Llasos resigned from the intervenor and Atty. Richard B. Dasal became barred from private practice upon his appointment to a position in a government subsidiary. They both personally handled her case. Besides, their dismissal was based on a justifiable cause. Does this contention find merit?

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Supreme Court (First Division) ruling: No.

In the absence of the lawyer’s fault, consent or waiver, a client cannot deprive the lawyer of his just fees already earned in the guise of a justifiable reason. Here, Malvar not only downplayed the worth of the intervenor’s legal service to her but also attempted to camouflage her intent to defraud her lawyer by offering excuses that were not only inconsistent with her actions but, most importantly, fell short of being justifiable.

The letter Malvar addressed to Retired Justice Bellosillo, who represented the intervenor, debunked her allegations of unsatisfactory legal service because she thereby lavishly lauded the intervenor for its dedication and devotion to the prosecution of her case and to the protection of her interests. Also significant was that the attorney-client relationship between her and the intervenor was not severed upon Atty. Dasal’s appointment to public office and Atty. Llasos’ resignation from the law firm.

In other words, the intervenor remained as her counsel of record, for, as we held in Rilloraza, Africa, De Ocampo and Africa v. Eastern Telecommunication Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 104600, July 2, 1999, 309 SCRA 566, 574, a client who employs a law firm engages the entire law firm; hence, the resignation, retirement or separation from the law firm of the handling lawyer does not terminate the relationship, because the law firm is bound to provide a replacement.

The stipulations of the written agreement between Malvar and the intervenors, not being contrary to law, morals, public policy, public order or good customs, were valid and binding on her. They expressly gave rise to the right of the intervenor to demand compensation.

In a word, she could not simply walk away from her contractual obligations toward the Intervenor, for Article 1159 of the Civil Code provides that obligations arising from contracts have the force of law between the parties and should be complied with in good faith (Czarina T. Malvar vs. Kraft Food Phils., Inc. and/or Kraft Foods International, G.R. No. 183952, Sept. 9, 2013).

(Almirante is a former labor arbiter)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 03, 2014.

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