Monday, February 11, 2013

When local government officials may properly secure services of private counsel

Respondent Alayan was appointed in 2000 as Municipal Government Department Head (Municipal Assessor) on temporary status.  In May 2001, she applied for change of status from temporary to permanent, which the Civil Service Commission-Camarines Sur Field Office (CSC-CSFO) denied for lack of relevant experience.  On appeal, the CSC-Regional Office in its August 13, 2001 Order approved her application effective May 22, 2001.  Thus, she reported for work and sought recognition of her appointment and the grant of the emoluments of the position from petitioner, then incumbent Mayor Gontang, which the latter denied. This compelled respondent to sue Gontang for mandamus before the regional trial court of Naga City.

The sole issue was whether or not the petition for certiorari may be dismissed on the ground of unauthorized representation of petitioner by private lawyers.

According to the Supreme Court: “The present case stemmed from Special Civil Action No. 2002-0019 for mandamus and damages. The damages sought therein could have resulted in personal liability, hence, petitioner cannot be deemed to have been improperly represented by private counsel. In Alinsug v. RTC Br. 58, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, the Court ruled that in instances like the present case where personal liability on the part of local government officials is sought, they may properly secure the services of private counsel, explaining: 

‘It can happen that a government official, ostensibly acting in his official capacity and sued in that capacity, is later held to have exceeded his authority.  On the one hand, his defense would have then been underwritten by the people’s money which ordinarily should have been his personal expense.  On the other hand, personal liability can attach to him without, however, his having had the benefit of assistance of a counsel of his own choice.  In Correa v. CFI, the Court held that in the discharge of governmental functions, ‘municipal corporations are responsible for the acts of its officers, except if and when, and only to the extent that, they have acted by authority of the law, and in conformity with the requirements thereof.

‘In such instance, this Court has sanctioned the representation by private counsel.  In one case, We held that where rigid adherence to the law on representation of local officials in court actions could deprive a party of his right to redress for a valid grievance, the hiring of a private counsel would be proper.  And in Albuera v. Torres, this Court also said that a provincial governor sued in his official capacity may engage the services of private counsel when “the complaint contains other allegations and a prayer for moral damages, which, if due from the defendants, must be satisfied by them in their private capacity.’

“Consequently Attys. Fandiño and Saulon had the authority to represent petitioner at the initial stages of the litigation and this authority continued even up to his appeal and the filing of the petition for certiorari with the CA respecting the execution of the RTC judgment. It was therefore an error for the CA to have dismissed the said petition for certiorari on the ground of unauthorized representation.” (G.R. No. 191691 [2013])

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