Here are select December 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:
Attorney; Applicability of the Code of Professional Responsibility to lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks. Private respondents were charged before the Court of Tax Appeals for violation of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines, as amended. However, the CTA dismissed the case since the prosecution failed to present certified true copies of the documentary evidence submitted contrary to Section 7, Rule 130 and Section 127, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court. The Run After the Smugglers (RATS) Group, Revenue Collection Monitoring Group (RCMG), as counsel for the BOC, filed a petition for certiorari but the petition was filed beyond the reglementary period.
The Supreme Court held that the display of patent violations of even the elementary rules shows that the case against respondents was doomed by design from the start. This stance taken by the lawyers in government service rouses the Court’s vigilance against inefficiency in the administration of justice. Verily, the lawyers representing the offices under the executive branch should be reminded that they still remain as officers of the court from whom a high sense of competence and fervor is expected. The Court will not close its eyes to this sense of apathy in RATS lawyers, lest the government’s goal of revenue enhancement continues to suffer the blows of smuggling and similar activities. The Court reminded the lawyers in the BOC that the canons embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility equally apply to lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks. Thus, RATS lawyers should exert every effort and consider it their duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice. People of the Philippines v. The Hon. Juanito C. Castaneda, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 208290, December 11, 2013.
Attorney; Champertous contract. Complainants engaged the legal services of Atty. Bañez, Jr. in connection with the recovery of their properties from Fevidal. Complainants signed a contract of legal services, where they would not pay acceptance and appearance fees to Atty. Bañez Jr., but that the docket fees would instead be shared by the parties. Under the contract, complainants would pay him 50% of whatever would be recovered of the properties. Later, however, complainants terminated his services and entered into an amicable settlement with Fevidal. Atty. Bañez, Jr. opposed the withdrawal of their complaint in court. Thus, complainants filed a case against him alleging that the motion of Atty. Baez, Jr. for the recording of his attorney’s charging lien was the “legal problem” preventing them from enjoying the fruits of their property.
Section 26, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court allows an attorney to intervene in a case to protect his rights concerning the payment of his compensation. According to the discretion of the court, the attorney shall have a lien upon all judgments for the payment of money rendered in a case in which his services have been retained by the client. In this case, however, the contract for legal services is in the nature of a champertous contract – an agreement whereby an attorney undertakes to pay the expenses of the proceedings to enforce the client’s rights in exchange for some bargain to have a part of the thing in dispute. Such contracts are contrary to public policy and are thus void or inexistent. They are also contrary to Canon 16.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which states that lawyers shall not lend money to a client, except when in the interest of justice, they have to advance necessary expenses in a legal matter they are handling for the client. Thus, the Court held that Atty. Bañez, Jr. violated Canon 16.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Conchita Baltazar,et al. v. Atty. Juan B. Bañez, Jr., A.C. No. 9091, December 11, 2013.