The Supreme Court has disbarred Antonio M. Atalig and Reynaldo O. Yana. The disbarment followed the appeal of a trial court order, which indefinitely suspended the two for allegedly abusing legal process to obtain over $1 million from the heirs of the Angel Malite estate.
The alleged abuse of legal process started when Atalig signed a contingency fee agreement with four out of 18 alleged heirs of the Malite estate. The agreement claimed to give Atalig a one-third interest in the entire estate, meaning it claimed to give Atalig all of his clients’ share in the estate as well as some of the other alleged heirs’ share.
In accordance with that agreement, the court overseeing distribution of the Malite estate entered an order granting Atalig and Yana (who later joined the case) more than a $1 million. The other heirs challenged the distribution, but Atalig and Yana alleged all of the money had disappeared. They continued to claim they did not have the money even after the court ordered Atalig and Yana to return the money to the court.
On appeal, Atalig and Yana claimed the rules of professional conduct governing attorneys did not apply to them because they had ceased to represent the four heirs. The High Court disagreed, concluding the two had violated, among others, the duties of candor and honesty toward a tribunal as well as the duty to keep client’s funds safe. Atalig and Yana violated the first two duties because those duties apply to all attorneys in court regardless of whether they are representing clients or themselves. The two violated the third duty because they knew (or ought have to known) the other heirs would dispute the over $1 million distribution.
The Supreme Court’s full opinion is In re Yana and Atalig, 2014 MP 1, and can be found at http://www.cnmilaw.org/judiciarybranch/supremecourt.html. (NMI Judiciary)