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.

Dishonesty. The Court finds well-taken the evaluation and recommendation of the OCA on the charge for discourtesy.  The Court finds well-taken too the evaluation and recommendation of the OCA on respondent’s failure to comply with the requirements of Rule 141, Section 10 of the Rules of Court. It finds the OCA’s characterization of such failure as “Inefficiency and Incompetence in the Performance of Official Duties” – a grave offense – too harsh, however. Leticia Sales vs. Arnel Jose A. Rubio, Sheriff IV, RTC, OCC, Naga City, A.M. No. P-08-2570, September 4, 2009.

Dishonesty. By misrepresenting her educational attainment to qualify for her present position, respondent has committed dishonesty. Dishonesty has been defined as intentionally making a false statement on any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing one’s examination, registration, appointment or promotion. It is also understood to imply a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray. Judge Jenny Lind Aldecia-Delorino vs. Marilyn De Castro Remigio-Versosa, Clerk III, Regional Trial Court, Branch 137, Makati City, A.M. No. P-08-2433, September 25, 2009.

Dishonesty.   Based on the foregoing, the Court is more inclined to believe that when complainant and defendants-spouses failed to reach an agreement, respondent came forward as a third-party claimant to prevent the levy and execution of said properties. He, therefore, violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,which provides that a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. Under this rule, conduct has been construed not to pertain exclusively to the performance of a lawyer’s professional duties. In previous cases, the Court has held that a lawyer may be disbarred or suspended for misconduct, whether in his professional or private capacity, which shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity and good demeanor; or unworthy to continue as an officer of the court.  John Christen S. Hegna vs. Atty. Goering G.C. Paderanga, A.C. No. 5955. September 8, 2009

Grave misconduct. Ganzan’s failure to remit her collections, amounting to P256,530.25 and to report/collect fines totaling P50,050.00, constitutes gross neglect of duty, dishonesty, and grave misconduct. She has transgressed the trust reposed in her as cashier and disbursement officer of the Court. Therefore, the Court is left with no other recourse but to declare Ganzan guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct.

Under Section 23, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 and other pertinent Civil Service Laws, dishonesty and grave misconduct are considered grave offenses, for which the penalty of dismissal is prescribed even at the first instance. Section 9 of said Rules additionally provides: “The penalty of dismissal shall carry with it cancellation of eligibility and retirement benefits, and the disqualification of re-employment in the government service. This penalty is without prejudice to criminal liability of the respondent.” Office of the Court Administrator vs. Clerk of Court Fe P. Ganzan, MCTC, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, A.M. No. P-05-2046, September 17, 2009

Grave misconduct. It is undisputed that accused were charged with a non-bailable offense; that they were released from detention on the basis merely of the Custody Receipt signed by the respondent, which was a clear violation of Section 3, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court which explicitly provides that “no person under detention by legal process shall be released or transferred except upon order of the court or when he is admitted to bail.” As a court employee, respondent is cognizant of this requirement as in fact he admitted in his Comment that a motion for temporary release should have been filed in court.

As a court employee, respondent is expected to follow the law and the rules and procedures prescribed by the Court. The facts in this case clearly indicate that respondent deliberately circumvented the law to favor his accused-relatives. This is a grave misconduct which merits the penalty of dismissal. P/Supt. Rene Macaling Orbe vs. Marcos U. Digandang, Process Server, Regional Trial Court, Branch 14, Cotabato City, A.M. No. P-09-2685, September 3, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law. Judge Reyes is discharged from the service for gross ignorance of the law and conduct unbecoming of a judge.  Prosecutor Romana R. Reyes vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes, etc./Armi M. Flordeliza, et al. Vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes, etc./Andree K. Lagdameo vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes, etc./timoteo A. Migriño, etc. vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes/Florencio Sebastian, Jr. vs. Hon. Judge Julia A. Reyes, Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Trial Court, Pasig City, Branch 69, A.M. No. MTJ-06-1623/A.M. No. MTJ-06-1625/A.M. No. 06-1627/A.M. No. P-09-2693/A.M. No. MTJ-06-1638, September 18, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law.  Respondent is guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure for taking cognizance of the petition for indirect contempt, despite the non-payment of docket fees. Rule 71, Section 4 of the Rules of Court provides that an indirect contempt proceeding, which is not initiated motu proprio by the court, shall be commenced by a verified petition that fully complies with the requirements for filing initiatory pleadings for civil actions, including the payment of docket fees. That Rule being so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan/Leticia Lourdes Camara vs. Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2089/A.M. No. RTJ-0921-99, September 8, 2009.

Gross negligence. Indeed, Romero’s gross negligence in driving the shuttle bus is evident. Gross negligence has been defined as the want or absence of even slight care or diligence as to amount to a reckless disregard of the safety of persons or property. It evinces a thoughtless disregard of consequences without exerting any effort to avoid them.

In A.M. No. 2008-13-SC, the Court ruled that “a government employee holding a casual or temporary employment cannot be terminated within a period of his employment except for cause.” We sustain the recommendation of the OAS that there is a sufficient cause to terminate Romero’s employment, his gross recklessness in driving the shuttle bus having been established by substantial evidence. Moreover, the presence of mitigating circumstances, such as his length of service or this being his first offense, should not be taken into account considering that the paramount concern in this case is the need to safeguard the lives and limbs of the shuttle bus passengers.  Complaint of Atty. Wilhelmina D. Geronga against Mr. Ross C. Romero, driver, shuttle bus no. 5 for reckless driving, A.M. No. 2009-04-SC, September 4, 2009.

Immorality. Under Sections 8 and 11 of Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, a judge found guilty of immorality can be dismissed from the service, if still in the active service, or may forfeit all or part of his retirement benefits, if already retired, and disqualified from reinstatement or appointment to any public office including government-owned or controlled corporations. We have already ruled that if a judge is to be disciplined for a grave offense, the evidence against him should be competent and derived from direct knowledge. This quantum of evidence, complainant failed to satisfy.

The testimonies of Mutia and Zozobrado are specious and insufficient to convincingly prove that respondent committed disreputable conduct. This considered, complainant should not have refused to testify during the hearing. More than anyone else, it was complainant who had a direct interest in making sure that the evidence adduced met the necessary burden of proof, considering that the allegations in her complaint involved charges that cannot be lightly dealt with. She should have been more zealous in prosecuting her complaint.

Nevertheless, we agree with the findings of the Investigating Justice that although the charges of immorality and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service were not satisfactorily proven by complainant, respondent cannot be completely exonerated. Mutia’s testimony that he saw Judge Macias having dinner with Seranillos and entering a bedroom with her may not satisfactorily prove the charge of immorality, but this act certainly suggested an appearance of impropriety, Judge Macias being a married man. Such behavior undeniably constituted unbecoming conduct, a light offense punishable by a fine not less than P1,000.00 but not more thanP10,000.00. In light of the circumstances affecting not only the reputation of Judge Macias himself but the image and reputation of the whole judiciary as well, we find it reasonable to impose upon him the maximum fine of P10,000.00.  Margie Corpus Macias Vs. Mariano vs. Mariano Joaquin S. Macias, Presiding Judge, Branh 28, Regional Trial Court, Liloy, Zamboanga del Norte, A.M. No. RTJ-01-1650, September 29, 2009.

Influence peddling. After a careful study of the instant case, we find no sufficient evidence to support complainant’s claim. Except for complainant’s bare allegations, there is no proof that respondents engaged in influence peddling, extortion, or in any unlawful, dishonest, immoral, or deceitful conduct. It is axiomatic that he who alleges the same has the onus of validating it. Gregory U. Chan vs. NLRC Commissioner Romeo L. Go, et al., A.C. No. 7547, September 4, 2009.

Loan to client. The rule is that a lawyer shall not lend money to his client. The only exception is, when in the interest of justice, he has to advance necessary expenses (such as filing fees, stenographer’s fees for transcript of stenographic notes, cash bond or premium for surety bond, etc.) for a matter that he is handling for the client.

The rule is intended to safeguard the lawyer’s independence of mind so that the free exercise of his judgment may not be adversely affected. It seeks to ensure his undivided attention to the case he is handling as well as his entire devotion and fidelity to the client’s cause. If the lawyer lends money to the client in connection with the client’s case, the lawyer in effect acquires an interest in the subject matter of the case or an additional stake in its outcome. Either of these circumstances may lead the lawyer to consider his own recovery rather than that of his client, or to accept a settlement which may take care of his interest in the verdict to the prejudice of the client in violation of his duty of undivided fidelity to the client’s cause.  Pedro L. Linsangan vs. Atty. Nicodemes Tolentino, A.C. No. 6672, September 4, 2009.

Misappropriation.  We find respondent guilty of misappropriating judiciary funds – which act constitutes dishonesty and grave misconduct. Respondent did not deny committing the irregularities imputed against her or submit an explanation thereof despite several opportunities given her. In her letter dated November 12, 2004, respondent acknowledged sole responsibility over said infractions and admitted using the missing judiciary funds for her personal gain; she even offered to restitute the undeposited collections. Respondent’s offer to restitute the whole amount would not serve to exonerate her from administrative liability; much more in this case where out of the total missing amount of P8,694,578.56, respondent only returned the measly sum of P100,601.00. The infraction had been committed; it could not be erased by mere offer of restitution.  Office of the Court Administrator vs. Concepcion G. Espineda, etc., A.M. No. CTA-08-2, September 4, 2009.
Mistajke. It has been held that not all mistakes of members of the Bar justify the imposition of disciplinary actions. An attorney-at-law is not expected to know all the law. For an honest mistake or error, an attorney is not liable.  Wen Ming W. Chen a.k.a. Domingo Tan vs. Atty. F.D. Nicolas B. Pichay, A.C. No. 7910, September 18, 2009.

Negligence. It is with respect to respondent’s receipt of the proceeds of complainant’s bonus in June 2006 that this Court, as did the OCA, faults respondent for being remiss in his duties in failing to submit a return of the writ. While respondent belatedly executed a Sheriff’s Report dated May 13, 2008, the same fails to comply with the mandate of Section 14 of Rule 39.

In fine, respondent is indeed guilty of simple neglect of duty. Under Rule IV, Section 52 (B) (1) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, the first offense of simple neglect of duty is penalized with suspension for one month and one day to six months. Dr. Salome U. Jorge vs. Carlos P. Diaz, Deputy Sheriff, RTC, Branch 20, Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, A.M. No. P-07-2332, September 4, 2009.

Non-compliance with court order.  Atty. Venida apologized for the late filing of both his partial and full comments. But tried to exculpate himself by saying he inadvertently misplaced the complaint and had a heavy workload (for his partial comment). He even had the temerity to blame a strong typhoon for the loss of all his files, the complaint included (for his full comment). His excuses tax the imagination. Nevertheless, his apologies notwithstanding, we find his conduct utterly unacceptable for a member of the legal profession. He must not be allowed to evade accountability for his omissions.

A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as an attorney for violation of the lawyer’s oath and/or for breach of the ethics of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Rolando Saa vs. Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Commission on Bar Discipline, Board of Governors, Pasig City and Atty. Freddie A. Venida, G.R. No. 132826, September 3, 2009.

Notarial law. Specifically, the notarial certification contained in the jurat of the amended verification and affidavit of non-forum shopping – “SUBSCRIBED AND SWORN TO BEFORE ME, on this 18th day of June 2003, affiant IRENE BIDES, showing to me her CTC Nos. 11833475 issued on November 21, 2002, in Manila” – indicated both the necessity for the physical presence of Bides as the affiant and the fact that the signing was done in the presence of the respondent as the notary. The physical presence of Bides was required in order to have her as the affiant swear before the respondent that she was that person and in order to enable the respondent as the notary to ascertain whether Bides had voluntarily and freely executed the affidavit. Thus, the respondent, by signing as notary even before Bides herself could appear before her, failed to give due observance and respect to the solemnity.

Being a lawyer commissioned as a notary, the respondent was mandated to discharge with fidelity the sacred duties appertaining to her notarial office. Such duties being dictated by public policy and impressed with public interest, she could not disregard the requirements and solemnities of the Notarial Law. It was emphatically her primary duty as a lawyer-notary to obey the laws of the land and to promote respect for the law and legal processes. She was expected to be in the forefront in the observance and maintenance of the rule of law. She ought to have remembered that a graver responsibility was placed upon her shoulders by virtue of her being a lawyer.  Imelda Bides-Ulaso vs. Atty. Edita Noe-Lacsamana, A.C. No. 7297, September 29, 2009.

Solicitation of clients. With regard to respondent’s violation of Rule 8.02 of the CPR, settled is the rule that a lawyer should not steal another lawyer’s client nor induce the latter to retain him by a promise of better service, good result or reduced fees for his services. Again the Court notes that respondent never denied having these seafarers in his client list nor receiving benefits from Labiano’s “referrals.” Furthermore, he never denied Labiano’s connection to his office. Respondent committed an unethical, predatory overstep into another’s legal practice. He cannot escape liability under Rule 8.02 of the CPR.  Pedro L. Linsangan vs. Atty. Nicodemes Tolentino, A.C. No. 6672, September 4, 2009.