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.

Grave misconduct and dishonesty;  court personnel.  A court employee is not prohibited from helping individuals in the course of performing her official duties, but her actions cannot be left unchecked when the help extended puts under suspicion the integrity of the Judiciary.  Indeed, she is strictly instructed not to use her official position to secure unwarranted benefits, privileges, or exemptions for herself or for others.  The evident purpose of the instruction is precisely to free the court employees from suspicion of misconduct.

The respondent did not comply with the instruction.  Instead, she used her official position as an employee of the Judiciary to attempt to influence Judge Guerrero to rule in favor of litigant Garcia, her landlord.  She was thereby guilty of misconduct, defined as a transgression of some established or definite rule of action; or, more particularly, an unlawful behavior on the part of a public officer or employee.  Her misconduct is “grave misconduct” warranting dismissal from the service.  The respondent was also liable for dishonesty when she attended the proceedings in the case involving her landlord but did not file applications for leave and did not reflect her absence in her daily time records.  Judge Juanita V. Guerrero v. Juanita V. Ong, G.R. No. 182336, December 23, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law; interference with co-equal court. Two Regional Trial Court Judges were found administratively liable for “gross ignorance of the law” in issuing a Temporary Restraining Order against the execution of a demolition order issued by another Regional Trial Court.  The Supreme Court held that when the respondent judges acted on the application for TRO, they were clearly aware that they were being asked to act on matters already before another RTC – a co-equal court, which was already exercising jurisdiction over the subject matter of the petition brought before them.  They nonetheless opted to interfere with the [demolition] order of a co-equal and coordinate court of concurrent jurisdiction, in blatant disregard of the doctrine of judicial stability, a well-established axiom in adjective law.  Heirs of Simeon Piedad v. Executive Judge Cesar Estrena and Judge Gaudiso Villarin, A.M. RTJ-09-2170, December 16, 2009.

Gross neglect of duty;  clerk of court.  A clerk of court who issued a certificate of finality of a purported decision which, however, turned out to be spurious and non-existent as it cannot be found in the court’s records and solely on the basis of her familiarity with the signature of the presiding judge as appearing in the purported decision was found administratively liable for gross neglect of duty.

Citing the high degree of responsibility, integrity, efficiency and ethics required of public officers by the Constitution, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. No. 6713), and the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, the Supreme Court stated that “conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice – from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, is circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility.”

The Court rejected the respondent clerk of court’s defense that she acted with diligence and in good faith when she issued the certification based on her familiarity with the presiding judge’s signature.  The Court ruled that, in the absence of the record showing the genuineness of the purported decision, no certification should have been issued and that, at the very least, the respondent should have informed the presiding judge about the request for certification and the fact that there exist no records to support the certification. Atty. Eduardo E. Francisco v. Liza O. Galvez, A.M. No. P-09-2636, December 4, 2009.

Impropriety; judge. Respondent Judge clearly fell short of the exacting standards set by the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.  His acts of receiving lawbooks worth fifty thousand pesos, cellular phones and monthly cellular phone prepaid cards from the property guardians of the late Rev. Fr. Aspiras, who was then the ward of the court, constitute impropriety which the Supreme Court cannot allow.  Respondent Judge’s act of issuing Orders directing the manager of the PNB, La Union Branch to draw checks amounting to thousands of pesos from the account of the late Rev. Fr. Aspiras creates the impression of impropriety and subjects the court to suspicion of irregularities in the conduct of the proceedings.  Heirs of the Late Rev. Fr. Jose O. Aspiras v. Judge Clifton U. Ganay, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2055, December 17, 2009.

Sheriffs’ and process servers’ expenses for service of writs and processes.  In the implementation of writs or processes of the court for whic expenses are to be incurred, sheriffs are mandated to comply with Section 10, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 04-2-04-SC to the effect that the sheriff or process server must first prepare an estimate of the expenses for approval by the court, and that the interested party may then deposit the amount as indicated in the approved estimate with the clerk of court or ex oficio sheriff for disbursement to the deputy sheriff assigned to effect the service of the writ or process, subject to liquidation within the same period for submitting a sheriff’s return.  In this case, the respondent served the writ of execution without presenting to the complainant a court approved estimate of expenses and without the required deposit from the complainant to the clerk of court. While the record reveal the existence of an approved Itemized Estimated Amount of Expenses, a copy of that same itemized estimated expenses was only given to the complainant almost four months after the writ of execution was served on the losing party.  Likewise in contravention of Rule 141, respondent sheriff directly received money from the complainant.  Respondent is found guilty of neglect of duty.  Emma B. Ramos v. Apollo R. Ragot, A.M. No. P-09-2600, December 23, 2009.

(Mon thanks  Bhong P.A. Macasaet for his help in preparing this post.)