June 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select June 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Disbarment; Effect of withdrawal. A disbarment case was filed by Quiachon against her lawyer Atty. Ramos who represented her in a labor case before NLRC and a special proceeding case before the RTC. During the pendency of the proceedings, complainant withdrew the disbarment case. The Supreme Court held that the withdrawal of a disbarment case against a lawyer does not terminate or abate the jurisdiction of the IBP and of this Court to continue an administrative proceeding against a lawyer-respondent as a member of the Philippine Bar. The complainant in a disbarment case is not a direct party to the case, but a witness who brought the matter to the attention of the Court. In this case, Atty. Ramos violated Canon Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Thus, the appropriate penalty should be imposed despite the desistance of complainant or the withdrawal of the charges. Adelia V. Quiachon v. Atty. Joseph Ador A. Ramos, A.C. No. 9317, June 4, 2014.

Attorney; Quantum of proof in administrative cases. An administrative complaint for dishonesty was filed against Atty. Molina for having advised his clients to enforce a contract on complainant’s client who was never a party to the agreement. The Supreme Court in dismissing the complaint held that when it comes to administrative cases against lawyers, two things are to be considered: quantum of proof, which requires clearly preponderant evidence; and burden of proof, which is on the complainant. Here, the complaint was without factual basis. The allegation of giving legal advice was not substantiated in this case, either in the complaint or in the corresponding hearings. Bare allegations are not proof. Even if Atty. Molina did provide his clients legal advice, he still cannot be held administratively liable without any showing that his act was attended with bad faith or malice. The default rule is presumption of good faith. Atty. Alan F. Paguia v. Atty. Manuel T. Molina, A.C. No. 9881, June 4, 2014.

Court personnel; Dishonesty. Ampong was dismissed from the Civil Service Commission for dishonesty, however, remained employed in the RTC. The Supreme Court has already held in its August 26, 2008 Decision that Ampong was administratively liable for dishonesty in impersonating and taking the November 1991 Civil Service Eligibility Examination for Teachers on behalf of one Decir. Under section 58(a) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (URACCS), the penalty of dismissal carries with it the following administrative disabilities: (a) cancellation of civil service eligibility; (b) forfeiture of retirement benefits; and (c) perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any government agency or instrumentality, including any government-owned and controlled corporation or government financial institution. Ampong should be made to similarly suffer the same. Every employee of the Judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness, and honesty. Court personnel are enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice. Here, Ampong failed to meet these stringent standards set for a judicial employee and does not, therefore, deserve to remain with the Judiciary. Office of the Court Administrator v. Sarah P. Ampong, etc., A.M. No. P-13-3132, June 4, 2014.

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April 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select April 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; simple misconduct. An administrative case was filed against Melchor Tiongson, a Court of Appeals (CA) employee who was assigned to be the head watcher during the 2011 bar examinations. The complaint alleged that she brought a digital camera inside the bar examination rooms, in violation of the Instructions to Head Watchers. The Court held that in administrative proceedings, substantial evidence is the quantum of proof required for a finding of guilt, and this requirement is satisfied if there is reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct. Misconduct means transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by an employee. Any transgression or deviation from the established norm of conduct, work related or not, amounts to a misconduct. In this case, there was substantial evidence to prove that Tiongson committed a misconduct. Tiongson was held liable for simple misconduct only, because the elements of grave misconduct were not proven with substantial evidence, and Tiongson admitted his infraction before the Office of the Bar Confidant. As a CA employee, Tiongson disregarded his duty to uphold the strict standards required of every court employee, that is, to be an example of integrity, uprightness and obedience to the judiciary. Re: Melchor Tiongson, Head Watcher, During the 2011 Bar Examinations, B.M. No. 2482, April 1, 2014.

Judges; bias and partiality must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The Court held that the truth about Judge Austria’s alleged partiality cannot be determined by simply relying on the verified complaint. Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, in light especially of a judge’s  sacred  obligation  under  his  oath  of  office  to  administer  justice without respect to the person, and to give equal right to the poor and rich. There should be clear and convincing evidence to prove the charge; mere suspicion of partiality is not enough. In this case, aside from being speculative and judicial in character, the circumstances cited by the complainant were grounded on mere opinion and surmises. The complainant also failed to adduce proof indicating the judge’s predisposition to decide the case in favor of one party. Antonio M. Lorenzana v. Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria, RTC, Br. 2, Batangas City, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200, April 2, 2014.

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April 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select April 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; simple misconduct. An administrative case was filed against Melchor Tiongson, a Court of Appeals (CA) employee who was assigned to be the head watcher during the 2011 bar examinations. The complaint alleged that she brought a digital camera inside the bar examination rooms, in violation of the Instructions to Head Watchers. The Court held that in administrative proceedings, substantial evidence is the quantum of proof required for a finding of guilt, and this requirement is satisfied if there is reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct. Misconduct means transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by an employee. Any transgression or deviation from the established norm of conduct, work related or not, amounts to a misconduct. In this case, there was substantial evidence to prove that Tiongson committed a misconduct. Tiongson was held liable for simple misconduct only, because the elements of grave misconduct were not proven with substantial evidence, and Tiongson admitted his infraction before the Office of the Bar Confidant. As a CA employee, Tiongson disregarded his duty to uphold the strict standards required of every court employee, that is, to be an example of integrity, uprightness and obedience to the judiciary. Re: Melchor Tiongson, Head Watcher, During the 2011 Bar Examinations, B.M. No. 2482, April 1, 2014.

Judges; bias and partiality must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The Court held that the truth about Judge Austria’s alleged partiality cannot be determined by simply relying on the verified complaint. Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, in light especially of a judge’s  sacred  obligation  under  his  oath  of  office  to  administer  justice without respect to the person, and to give equal right to the poor and rich. There should be clear and convincing evidence to prove the charge; mere suspicion of partiality is not enough. In this case, aside from being speculative and judicial in character, the circumstances cited by the complainant were grounded on mere opinion and surmises. The complainant also failed to adduce proof indicating the judge’s predisposition to decide the case in favor of one party. Antonio M. Lorenzana v. Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria, RTC, Br. 2, Batangas City, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200, April 2, 2014.

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March 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select March 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Disbarment cases; Initiation. Complainants who are members of the Congressional Village Homeowner’s Association, Inc. filed a Complaint for Disbarment against Atty. Jimenez for violating Rule 12.03, Canon 12, Canon 17, Rule 18.03, and Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for his negligence in handling an appeal in a case involving the Association and willful violation of his duties as an officer of the court.

The Supreme Court held that the complainants have personality to file the disbarment case. In Heck v. Judge Santos, the Court held that “[a]ny interested person or the court motu proprio may initiate disciplinary proceedings.” The right to institute disbarment proceedings is not confined to clients nor is it necessary that the person complaining suffered injury from the alleged wrongdoing. The procedural requirement observed in ordinary civil proceedings that only the real party-in-interest must initiate the suit does not apply in disbarment cases. Disbarment proceedings are matters of public interest and the only basis for the judgment is the proof or failure of proof of the charges. Further, the Supreme Court held that a lawyer engaged to represent a client in a case bears the responsibility of protecting the latter’s interest with utmost diligence. In failing to file the appellant’s brief on behalf of his client, Atty. Jimenez had fallen far short of his duties as counsel as set forth in Rule 12.04, Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which exhorts every member of the Bar not to unduly delay a case and to exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.  However, the Supreme Court only suspended Atty. Jimenez from the practice of law for one month. Nestor Figueras and Bienvenido Victoria, Jr. v. Atty. Diosdado B. Jimenez,A.C. No. 9116, March 12, 2014.

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February 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select February 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Notarization; Importance. An administrative case was filed against Atty. Rinen for falsification of an Extra Judicial Partition with Sale which allowed the transfer to Spouses Durante of a parcel of land. In Bautista v. Atty. Bernabe, the Court held that “[a] notary public should not notarize a document unless the persons who signed the same are the very same persons who executed and personally appeared before him to attest to the contents and truth of what are stated therein. The presence of the parties to the deed will enable the notary public to verify the genuineness of the signature of the affiant.” Notarization is not an empty, meaningless, routinary act. It is invested with substantive public interest, such that only those who are qualified or authorized may act as notaries public. It converts a private document into a public one, making it admissible in court without further proof of its authenticity. Thus, notaries public must observe with utmost care the basic requirements in the performance of their duties. Otherwise, the confidence of the public in the integrity of public instruments would be undermined.

In this case, Atty. Rinen did not deny his failure to personally verify the identity of all parties who purportedly signed the subject document and whom, as he claimed, appeared before him on April 7, 1994. Such failure was further shown by the fact that the pertinent details of the community tax certificates of Wilberto and his sister, as proof of their identity, remained unspecified in the deed’s acknowledgment portion. Clearly, there was a failure on the part of Atty. Rinen to exercise the due diligence that was required of him as a notary public ex–officio. Thus, Atty. Rinen’s notarial commission as revoked and he was disqualified from being commissioned as a notary public for one year. Wilberto C. Talisic v. Atty. Primo R. Rinen, A.C. No. 8761, February 12, 2014.

Attorney; Notarization not an empty act. Complainant charged Atty. Gupana of forgeries and falsifications in the notarization of certain documents. The Supreme Court found Atty. Gupana administratively liable under Section 1 of Public Act No. 2103, otherwise known as the Notarial Law, for violation of his notarial duties when he failed to require the personal presence of Candelaria Magpayo when he notarized the Affidavit of Loss which Candelaria allegedly executed on April 29, 1994.

Under the law, the party acknowledging must appear before the notary public or any other person authorized to take acknowledgments of instruments or documents. In this case, the jurat of the Affidavit of Loss stated that Candelaria subscribed to the affidavit before Atty. Gupana on April 29, 1994, at Mandaue City. Candelaria, however, was already dead since March 26, 1991. Hence, it is clear that the jurat was made in violation of the notarial law. The notarization of a document is not an empty act or routine. A notary public’s function should not be trivialized and a notary public must discharge his powers and duties which are impressed with public interest, with accuracy and fidelity. As a lawyer commissioned as notary public, Atty. Gupana is mandated to subscribe to the sacred duties appertaining to his office, such duties being dictated by public policy impressed with public interest. Thus, the Supreme Court held that Atty. Gupana’s revocation of his notarial commission, disqualification from being commissioned as a notary public for a period of two years and suspension from the practice of law for one year are in order. Carlito Ang v. Atty. James Joseph GupanaA.C. No. 4545. February 5, 2014.

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January 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select January 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Contingent Fee. Spouses Cadavedo hired Atty. Lacaya on a contingency basis. The Supreme Court held that spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya agreed on a contingent fee of ₱2,000.00 and not, as asserted by the latter, one-half of the subject lot.  The stipulation contained in the amended complaint filed by Atty. Lacaya clearly stated that the spouses Cadavedo hired the former on a contingency basis; the Spouses Cadavedo undertook to pay their lawyer ₱2,000.00 as attorney’s fees should the case be decided in their favor. Granting arguendo that the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya indeed entered into an oral contingent fee agreement securing to the latter one-half of the subject lot, the agreement is void. The agreement is champertous and is contrary to public policy. Any agreement by a lawyer to “conduct the litigation in his own account, to pay the expenses thereof or to save his client therefrom and to receive as his fee a portion of the proceeds of the judgment is obnoxious to the law.” The rule of the profession that forbids a lawyer from contracting with his client for part of the thing in litigation in exchange for conducting the case at the lawyer’s expense is designed to prevent the lawyer from acquiring an interest between him and his client.  The Conjugal Partnership of the Spouses Vicente Cadavedo and Benita Arcoy-Cadavedo (both deceased), substituted by their Heirs, namely: Herminia, Pastora, Heirs of Fructiosa, Heirs of Raquel, Evangeline, Vicente, Jr., and Armand, all surnamed Cadavedo, G.R. No. 173188. January 15, 2014.

Attorney; Disbarment; Deceitful and Dishonest Conduct. A Complaint for Disbarment was filed against Atty. Solidum, Jr. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Solidum, Jr. violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Conduct, as used in the Rule, is not confined to the performance of a lawyer’s professional duties. A lawyer may be disciplined for misconduct committed either in his professional or private capacity. The test is whether his conduct shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, and good demeanor, or whether it renders him unworthy to continue as an officer of the court. The Supreme Court found Atty. Solidum, Jr. guilty of engaging in dishonest and deceitful conduct, both in his professional capacity with respect to his client, Presbitero, and in his private capacity with respect to complainant Navarro.  Both Presbitero and Navarro allowed Atty. Solidum, Jr. to draft the terms of the loan agreements. Atty. Solidum, Jr. drafted the MOAs knowing that the interest rates were exorbitant. Later, using his knowledge of the law, he assailed the validity of the same MOAs he prepared. He issued checks that were drawn from his son’s account whose name was similar to his without informing complainants.  Further, there is nothing in the records that will show that he paid or undertook to pay the loans he obtained from complainants. The fiduciary nature of the relationship between the counsel and his client imposes on the lawyer the duty to account for the money or property collected or received for or from his client. Atty. Solidum, Jr. failed to fulfill this duty. Natividad P. Navarro and Hilda S. Presbitero v. Atty. Ivan M. Solidum, Jr., A.C. No. 9872, January 28, 2014.

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December 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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.

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