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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November 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select November 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Accountability for Money Received from Client. Atty. Lawsin undertook to process the registration and eventually deliver, within a period of 6 months, the certificate of title over a certain parcel of land (subject land) in favor of complainant acting as the representative of the Heirs of the late Isabel Segovia. Atty. Lawsin received from complainant the amounts of P15,000 and P39,000 to cover for the litigation and land registration expenses, respectively. Atty. Lawsin, however, failed to fulfil his undertaking and failed to return the money to complainant. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Lawsin’s failure to properly account for and duly return his client’s money despite due demand is tantamount to a violation of Rules 16.01 and 16.03, Canon 16 of the Code. Complainant’s purported act of “maligning” him does not justify the latter’s failure to properly account for and return his client’s money upon due demand. Verily, a lawyer’s duty to his client is one essentially imbued with trust so much so that it is incumbent upon the former to exhaust all reasonable efforts towards its faithful compliance. Azucena Segovia-Ribaya v. Atty. Bartolome C. Lawsin, A.C. No. 7965, November 13, 2013.

Attorney; Administrative Proceedings; Sole Issue. Complainants filed a complaint for dishonesty against respondent, a retired judge, for knowingly making untruthful statements in the complaint he filed against them. The Supreme Court held that in administrative cases, the only issue within the ambit of the Court’s disciplinary authority is whether a lawyer is fit to remain a member of the Bar. Other issues are proper subjects of judicial action. On its face, the 12 September 2006 complaint filed by the Spouses Williams against Atty. Enriquez does not merit an administrative case. In order for the Court to determine whether Atty. Enriquez is guilty of dishonesty, the issue of ownership must first be settled. The issue of ownership of real property must be settled in a judicial, not administrative, case. Sps. David Williams and Marissa Williams v. Atty. Rudy T. EnriquezA.C. No. 7329, November 27, 2013.

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October 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select October 2013 cases on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Gross Immoral Conduct. Respondent Pedreña, a Public Attorney, was charged for sexual harassment. The Supreme Court held that the records show that the respondent rubbed the complainant’s right leg with his hand; tried to insert his finger into her firmly closed hand; grabbed her hand and forcibly placed it on his crotch area; and pressed his finger against her private part. Given the circumstances in which he committed them, his acts were not merely offensive and undesirable but repulsive, disgraceful and grossly immoral. They constituted misconduct on the part of any lawyer. In this regard, immoral conduct is gross when it is so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree, or when committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the community’s sense of decency. Atty. Pedreña’s misconduct was aggravated by the fact that he was then a Public Attorney mandated to provide free legal service to indigent litigants, and by the fact that complainant was then such a client. He also disregarded his oath as a public officer to serve others and to be accountable at all times, because he thereby took advantage of her vulnerability as a client then in desperate need of his legal assistance. Thus, respondent was meted out the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years. Jocelyn De Leon v. Atty. Tyrone Pedrena, A.C. No. 9401, October 22, 2013.

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September 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select September 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Attorney’s Fees. The case initially concerned the execution of a final decision with the Court of Appeals in a labor litigation. Petitioner Malvar, however, entered into a compromise agreement with the respondents pending appeal without informing her counsel. Malvar’s counsel filed a Motion to Intervene to Protect Attorney’s Rights.

The Supreme Court, on considerations of equity and fairness, disapproved of the tendencies of clients compromising their cases behind the backs of their attorneys for the purpose of unreasonably reducing or completely setting to naught the stipulated contingent fees. Thus, the Court granted the Motion for Intervention to Protect Attorney’s Rights as a measure of protecting the Intervenor’s right to his stipulated professional fees. The Court did so in the interest of protecting the rights of the practicing Bar rendering professional services on contingent fee basis.

Although the compromise agreement was still approved by the Court, the payment of the counsel’s adequate and reasonable compensation could not be annulled by the settlement of the litigation without the counsel’s participation and conformity. He remains entitled to the compensation, and his rights are safeguarded by the Court because its members are officers of the Court who are as entitled to judicial protection against injustice or imposition of fraud committed by the client as much as the client is against their abuses as her counsel. In other words, the duty of the Court is not only to ensure that the attorney acts in a proper and lawful manner, but also to see to it that the attorney is paid his just fees. Even if the compensation of the attorney is dependent only on winning the litigation, the subsequent withdrawal of the case upon the client’s initiative would not deprive the attorney of the legitimate compensation for professional services rendered. Czarina T. Malvar v. Kraft Foods Phils., Inc., et al., G.R. No. 183952, September 9, 2013.

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July 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select July 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Attorney-client relationship. Respondent Atty. Ramon SG Cabanes, Jr. was charged for gross negligence in violation of Canon 17, and Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The Supreme Court held him guilty of gross negligence. The relationship between an attorney and his client is one imbued with utmost trust and confidence. In this light, clients are led to expect that lawyers would be ever-mindful of their cause and accordingly exercise the required degree of diligence in handling their affairs. Verily, a lawyer is expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency, and to devote his full attention, skill, and competence to the case, regardless of its importance and whether he accepts it for a fee or for free. A lawyer’s duty of competence and diligence includes not merely reviewing the cases entrusted to the counsel’s care or giving sound legal advice, but also consists of properly representing the client before any court or tribunal, attending scheduled hearings or conferences, preparing and filing the required pleadings, prosecuting the handled cases with reasonable dispatch, and urging their termination without waiting for the client or the court to prod him or her to do so. While such negligence or carelessness is incapable of exact formulation, the Court has consistently held that the lawyer’s mere failure to perform the obligations due his client is per se a violation. Thus, the court suspended respondent for six (6) months. Josefina Caranza Vda de Saldivar v. Atty. Ramon SG Cabanes, Jr., A.C. No. 7749, July 8, 2013

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June 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select June 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; the failure to file a brief resulting in the dismissal of an appeal constitutes inexcusable negligence. In Dalisay Capili v. Atty. Alfredo L. Bentulan, the Court held that the failure to file a brief resulting in the dismissal of an appeal constitutes inexcusable negligence.  In this case, the Court cannot accept as an excuse the alleged lapse committed by his client in failing to provide him a copy of the case records.

In the first place, securing a copy of the case records was within Atty. San Juan’s control and is a task that the lawyer undertakes.

Second, Atty. San Juan, unlike his client, knows or should have known, that filing an appellant’s brief within the reglementary period is critical in the perfection of an appeal. The preparation and the filing of the appellant’s brief are matters of procedure that fully fell within the exclusive control and responsibility of Atty. San Juan. It was incumbent upon him to execute all acts and procedures necessary and incidental to the perfection of his client’s appeal.

Third, Atty. San Juan lacked candor in dealing with his client. He omitted to inform Tomas of the progress of his appeal with the Court of Appeals. Worse, he did not disclose to Tomas the real reason for the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the appeal. Neither did Atty. San Juan file a motion for reconsideration, or otherwise resort to available legal remedies that might have protected his client’s interest.

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