April 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected April 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; grave misconduct.  In grave misconduct, as distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule must be manifest.  Corruption as an element of grave misconduct consists in the act of an official or employee who unlawfully or wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another, contrary to the rights of others.

Medrano knowingly and corruptly submitted spurious or irregular bail bonds for the approval of the judge.  He categorically admitted his offense, giving the simple explanation of having thereby accommodated ill-intentioned people.  His anomalies for a consideration appeared to be not isolated, but repeated many times.  He thereby converted his employment in the court into an income-generating activity.  His grave misconduct was, therefore, a grave offense that deserved the penalty of dismissal for the first offense pursuant to Sec. 52-A of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.  Re: Anonymous Letter-Complaint against Hon. Marilou Runes-Tamang, Presiding Judge, MeTC Pateros, Manila and Presiding Judge, MeTC San Juan, Metro Manila, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1558, April 7, 2010.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. No less than the Constitution mandates that “public office is a public trust.”  Service with loyalty, integrity and efficiency is required of all public officers and employees, who must, at all times, be accountable to the people.

The outright admission of Clerk IV Aranzazu Baltazar to committing malversation of funds shows her blatant disregard for these principles she had sworn to uphold, thereby eroding public trust.  When asked to explain, Ms. Baltazar readily confessed her shortage and willingly executed an affidavit, dated April 5, 2004, wherein she admitted that she had committed grave negligence and malversation of funds when she allowed other court employees to borrow from the court funds in her custody, causing the shortage as discovered by the audit team.

Ms. Baltazar was grossly inefficient in handling the finances of the court. Her bare admission that she had indeed allowed other employees to borrow from the court funds shows her extensive participation in the irregularities reported by the audit team.  There is no doubt that these acts constitute a grave offense.  Office of the Court Administrator vs. Atty. Fermin M. Ofilas, et al., A.M. No. P-05-1935, April 23, 2010.

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March 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected March 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; administrative proceedings; desistance. Complainant Plaza manifested before the Court his intention to desist from pursuing the case.  However, we remind complainant that the discretion whether to continue with the proceedings rests exclusively with the Court, notwithstanding the complainant’s intention to desist.  This Court looks with disfavor at affidavits of desistance filed by complainants, especially if done as an afterthought.  Contrary to what the parties might have believed, withdrawal of the complaint does not have the legal effect of exonerating respondent from any administrative disciplinary sanction.  It does not operate to divest this Court of jurisdiction to determine the truth behind the matter stated in the complaint.  The Court’s disciplinary authority cannot be dependent on or frustrated by private arrangements between parties.  An administrative complaint against an official or employee of the judiciary cannot simply be withdrawn by a complainant who suddenly claims a change of mind.  Otherwise, the prompt and fair administration of justice, as well as the discipline of court personnel, would be undermined. Ryan S. Plaza, Clerk of Court, Municipal Trial Court, Argao, Cebu vs. Atty. Marcelina R. Amamio, Clerk of Court, Genoveva R. Vasquez, Legal Researcher and Floramay Patalinhug, Court Stenographer, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Argao, Cebu, A.M. No. P-08-2559, March 19, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Complainant stated that respondent Atty. Cariño may not have disclosed to the Supreme Court, in the course of her application as Clerk of Court, her pending administrative and criminal cases before the Ombudsman. Respondent Atty. Cariño vehemently denied the allegations against her.  She claimed that she was just being truthful when she answered “No” to item number 37(a) of her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) which states:  “Have you ever been formally charged?”  She admitted that she was aware of the two (2) complaints filed against her and her former Regional Election Director before the Ombudsman.  She, however, pointed out that these cases are still in the preliminary investigation and pre-charge stages, since probable cause has yet to be determined by the investigating officers and as such, should not be considered as formal charges yet.

If we but look at the attachments to the complaint itself, it is evident that at the time respondent Atty. Cariño was applying for the position of Clerk of Court, she had not yet been “formally charged” administratively or criminally. Clearly, there were no final dispositions of the cases yet.  In fact, the complainant even stated in his Complaint that those cases were not yet resolved by the Ombudsman. Thus, it is only after the issuance of the resolution finding probable cause and filing of the information in court that she can be considered formally charged.  In fact, the reckoning point is the filing of the information with the written authority or approval of the Ombudsman. To rule otherwise would subject herein respondent, or any civil servant for that matter, to extreme hardships considering that a government official or employee formally charged is deprived of some rights/privileges, i.e., obtaining loans from the Government Service Insurance System or other government-lending institutions, delay in the release of retirement benefits, disqualification from being nominated or appointed to any judicial post and, in some instances, prohibition to travel. Crisostomo M. Plopinio vs. Atty. Liza Zabala-Cariño, etc., A.M. No. P-08-2458, March 22, 2010.

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February 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are selected February 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on civil law:

Civil Code

Agency; principle of apparent authority; agency relationship between hospital and doctors who practice in its premises. This Court holds that PSI (the owner of the hospital) is liable to the Aganas, not under the principle of respondeat superior for lack of evidence of an employment relationship with a Dr. Ampil (who had left two pieces of gauze in the body of a patient he had operated on) but under the principle of ostensible agency for the negligence of Dr. Ampil and, pro hac vice, under the principle of corporate negligence for its failure to perform its duties as a hospital.

While in theory a hospital as a juridical entity cannot practice medicine, in reality it utilizes doctors, surgeons and medical practitioners in the conduct of its business of facilitating medical and surgical treatment. Within that reality, three legal relationships crisscross: (1) between the hospital and the doctor practicing within its premises; (2) between the hospital and the patient being treated or examined within its premises and (3) between the patient and the doctor. The exact nature of each relationship determines the basis and extent of the liability of the hospital for the negligence of the doctor.

Where an employment relationship exists, the hospital may be held vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation to Article 2180 of the Civil Code or the principle of respondeat superior. Even when no employment relationship exists but it is shown that the hospital holds out to the patient that the doctor is its agent, the hospital may still be vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation to Article 1431 and Article 1869 of the Civil Code or the principle of apparent authority. Moreover, regardless of its relationship with the doctor, the hospital may be held directly liable to the patient for its own negligence or failure to follow established standard of conduct to which it should conform as a corporation.

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December 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected December 2009 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Legal Ethics

Abuse of court processes and legal procedure; forum shopping  The successive filings of a petition for certiorari, petition for annulment of judgment, two petitions for annulment of the complainant’s certificate of title, and a petition for declaratory relief, all containing a prayer for injunctive relief, reveal the respondent’s persistence in preventing and avoiding the execution of the final decisions of the lower courts against his client.  Under the circumstances, the respondent lawyer’s repeated attempts go beyond the legitimate means allowed by professional ethical rules in defending the interests of his client.  These are already uncalled for measures to avoid the enforcement of the final judgment of the lower courts.  The respondent violated Rule 10.03, Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The respondent also violated Rule 12.02 and Rule 12.04, Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as the rule against forum shopping, both of which are directed against the filing of multiple actions to attain the same objective.  Conrado Que v. Atty. Anastacio Revilla, Jr.A.C. No. 7054, December 4, 2009.

Gross negligence.  A lawyer, when he undertakes a client’s cause, makes a covenant that he will exert all efforts for its prosecution until its final conclusion.  He should undertake the task with dedication and care, and he should do no less, otherwise, he is not true to his lawyer’s oath.  Respondent was woefully remiss in his duty to display utmost diligence and competence in protecting the interests of his clients.  Petitioners lost the civil case in the trial court because they were barred from presenting their evidence as a result of their being declared in default as a consequence of respondent’s failure to submit a pre-trial brief and to attend the pre-trial conference.  Petitioners’ appeal to the Court of Appeals from the adverse default judgment of the trial court was dismissed on account of respondent’s failure to file an appeal brief.  Respondent is guilty of gross negligence and misconduct in violation of Canon 17, and Rules 18.02 and 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Cesar Talento and Modesta Herrera Talento v. Atty. Agustin Paneda, A.C. No. 7433, December 23, 2009.

Judicial ethics 

Bad faith defined; absence of proof.   Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence; it imputes a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong; a breach of a sworn duty through some motive or intent or ill-will; it partakes of the nature of fraud.  It contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or some motive or self-interest or ill-will for ulterior purposes.  Evident bad faith connotes a manifest deliberate intent on the part of the accused to do wrong or cause damage.  In issuing, ex parte, an order which was effectively a Temporary Restraining Order with an indefinite term, the respondent judge was found to have violated Rule 58, Section 5 of the Rules of Court.  However, the charge of bad faith and manifest partiality was rejected by the Supreme Court.  No evidence was adduced to prove that the issuance of the assailed order was motivated by bad faith.  Further, the Supreme Court found that in issuing the assailed order, respondent judge was not at all motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred and some other motive; rather, he took into account the circumstances obtaining between the parties.   Mayor Hadji Amer R. Sampiano, et al. v. Judge Cader P. Indar,  A.M. RTJ-05-1953, December 21, 2009.

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November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are selected November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on civil law and related laws:

Civil Code

Contract;  contract of adhesion.     A contract of adhesion is defined as one in which one of the parties imposes a ready-made form of contract, which the other party may accept or reject, but which the latter cannot modify. One party prepares the stipulation in the contract, while the other party merely affixes his signature or his “adhesion” thereto, giving no room for negotiation and depriving the latter of the opportunity to bargain on equal footing. Contracts of adhesion are not invalid per se.  Contracts of adhesion, where one party imposes a ready-made form of contract on the other, are not entirely prohibited. The one who adheres to the contract is, in reality, free to reject it entirely; if he adheres, he gives his consent.  Norton Resources and Development Corporation vs. All Asia Bank Corporation, G.R. No. 162523. November 25, 2009

Contract;  freedom of contract. Petitioners allege that the Kasulatan was entered into by the parties freely and voluntarily. They maintain that there was already a meeting of the minds between the parties as regards the principal amount of the loan, the interest thereon and the property given as security for the payment of the loan, which must be complied with in good faith. Hence, they assert that the Court of Appeals should have given due respect to the provisions of the Kasulatan. They also stress that it is a settled principle that the law will not relieve a party from the effects of an unwise, foolish or disastrous contract, entered into with all the required formalities and with full awareness of what he was doing.

Petitioners’ contentions deserve scant consideration. In Abe v. Foster Wheeler Corporation, we held that the freedom of contract is not absolute. The same is understood to be subject to reasonable legislative regulation aimed at the promotion of public health, morals, safety and welfare. One such legislative regulation is found in Article 1306 of the Civil Code which allows the contracting parties to “establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy.”

To reiterate, we fully agree with the Court of Appeals in holding that the compounded interest rate of 5% per month, is iniquitous and unconscionable. Being a void stipulation, it is deemed inexistent from the beginning. The debt is to be considered without the stipulation of the iniquitous and unconscionable interest rate. Accordingly, the legal interest of 12% per annum must be imposed in lieu of the excessive interest stipulated in the agreement, in line with our ruling in Ruiz v. Court of Appeals.  Sps. Isagani & Diosdada Castro vs. Angelina de Leon Tan, G.R. No. 168940, November 24, 2009.

Contract; laches. The essence of laches is the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, through due diligence, could have been done earlier, thus giving rise to a presumption that the party entitled to assert it had either abandoned or declined to assert it.

Respondent discovered in 1991 that a new owner’s copy of OCT No. 535 was issued to the Eniceo heirs. Respondent filed a criminal case against the Eniceo heirs for false testimony. When respondent learned that the Eniceo heirs were planning to sell the Antipolo property, respondent caused the annotation of an adverse claim. On 16 January 1996, when respondent learned that OCT No. 535 was cancelled and new TCTs were issued, respondent filed a civil complaint with the trial court against the Eniceo heirs and petitioner. Respondent’s actions negate petitioner’s argument that respondent is guilty of laches.  Kings Properties Corporation, Inc. vs. Canuto A. Galido, G.R. No. 170023. November 27, 2009

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October 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected October 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on legal and judicial ethics:

Lawyers

Confidential information. It is settled that the mere relation of attorney and client does not raise a presumption of confidentiality. The client must intend the communication to be confidential. Since the proposed amendments to the by-laws must be approved by at least a majority of the stockholders, and copies of the amended by-laws must be filed with the SEC, the information could not have been intended to be confidential. Thus, the disclosure made by respondent during the stockholders’ meeting could not be considered a violation of his client’s secrets and confidence within the contemplation of Canon 21 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Rebecca J. Palm vs. Atty. Felipe Iledan, Jr., A.C. No. 8242, October 2, 2009.

Conflict of interest. In Quiambao v. Bamba, the Court enumerated various tests to determine conflict of interests. One test of inconsistency of interests is whether the lawyer will be asked to use against his former client any confidential information acquired through their connection or previous employment. The Court has ruled that what a lawyer owes his former client is to maintain inviolate the client’s confidence or to refrain from doing anything which will injuriously affect him in any matter in which he previously represented him.

There is no conflict of interest when respondent represented Soledad in a case filed by Comtech. The case where respondent represents Soledad is an Estafa case filed by Comtech against its former officer. There was nothing in the records that would show that respondent used against Comtech any confidential information acquired while he was still Comtech’s retained counsel. Further, respondent made the representation after the termination of his retainer agreement with Comtech. A lawyer’s immutable duty to a former client does not cover transactions that occurred beyond the lawyer’s employment with the client. The intent of the law is to impose upon the lawyer the duty to protect the client’s interests only on matters that he previously handled for the former client and not for matters that arose after the lawyer-client relationship has terminated.  Rebecca J. Palm vs. Atty. Felipe Iledan, Jr., A.C. No. 8242, October 2, 2009.

Indirect contempt. It is reasonable to conclude that the two lawyers crafted the complaint and incorporated therein all the unfounded accusations against the respondent in order to conceal their inadequacies in the handling of their client’s cases. To say the least, the complaint was most unfair to the respondent who, as the record shows, was simply keeping faith with her avowed objective of expediting the proceedings in her court by, among other measures, requiring lawyers to be prepared at all times and to be fair and candid in their dealings with the court.  Juan Pablo P. Bondoc vs. Judge Divina Luz P. Aquino-Simbulan, etc., A.M. No. RTJ-09-2204, October 26, 2009.

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September 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected September 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on legal and judicial ethics:

Disbarment; prescription. Neither the lapse of time from the occurrence of the cause nor the motivation for the filing of the complaint diminished the Court’s inherent power to discipline a member of the Bar whenever appropriate. First of all, the ordinary statutes of limitation had no application to disbarment or suspension proceedings against members of the Bar. Indeed, such proceedings are sui generis. They are not akin to the trials of actions or suits in which interests and rights are enforced by the plaintiffs against the defendants, but are rather investigations into the conduct of the members of the Bar made by the Supreme Court within the context of its plenary powers expressly granted by the Constitution to regulate the practice of law. The proceedings, which the Court may even motu proprio initiate, have neither plaintiffs nor prosecutors. The public interest is their primary objective, the true question for determination being whether or not the respondent members of the Bar are still fit to be allowed to retain their memberships and to enjoy the privileges appurtenant to such memberships.  Imelda Bides-Ulaso vs. Atty. Edita Noe-Lacsamana, A.C. No. 7297, September 29, 2009.

Disbarment;  withdrawal by complainant. The agreement between Bides and Ulaso stipulating the withdrawal of the disbarment case against the respondent did not terminate or abate the jurisdiction of the IBP and of this Court to continue the present administrative proceeding against the respondent as a member of the Philippine Bar.  Imelda Bides-Ulaso vs. Atty. Edita Noe-Lacsamana, A.C. No. 7297, September 29, 2009.

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