May 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney’s fees; quantum meruit.  The principle of quantum meruit (as much as he deserves) may be a basis for determining the reasonable amount of attorney’s fees.  Quantum meruit is a device to prevent undue enrichment based on the equitable postulate that it is unjust for a person to retain benefit without paying for it. It is applicable even if there was a formal written contract for attorney’s fees as long as the agreed fee was found by the court to be unconscionable.  In fixing a reasonable compensation for the services rendered by a lawyer on the basis of quantum meruit, factors such as the time spent, and extent of services rendered; novelty and difficulty of the questions involved; importance of the subject matter; skill demanded; probability of losing other employment as a result of acceptance of the proffered case; customary charges for similar services; amount involved in the controversy and the benefits resulting to the client; certainty of compensation; character of employment; and professional standing of the lawyer, may be considered [Orocio v. Anguluan, G.R. Nos. 179892-93, January 30, 2009].  Indubitably entwined with a lawyer’s duty to charge only reasonable fee is the power of the Court to reduce the amount of attorney’s fees if the same is excessive and unconscionable in relation to Sec. 24, Rule 138 of the Rules.  Attorney’s fees are unconscionable if they affront one’s sense of justice, decency or unreasonableness.

Verily, the determination of the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees requires the presentation of evidence and a full-blown trial.  It would be only after due hearing and evaluation of the evidence presented by the parties that the trial court can render judgment as to the propriety of the amount to be awarded.  Hicoblino M. Catly (Deceased), Substituted by his wife, Lourdes A. Catly vs. William Navarro, et al., G.R. No. 167239, May 5, 2010.

Judges; gross inefficiency. Article VIII, Section 15(1) of the 1987 Constitution mandates lower court judges to decide a case within the reglementary period of 90 days.  The Code of Judicial Conduct under Rule 3.05 of Canon 3 likewise enunciates that judges should administer justice without delay and directs every judge to dispose of the court’s business promptly within the period prescribed by law.  Rules prescribing the time within which certain acts must be done are indispensable to prevent needless delays in the orderly and speedy disposition of cases.  Thus, the 90-day period is mandatory.

Judges are enjoined to decide cases with dispatch.  Any delay, no matter how short, in the disposition of cases undermines the people’s faith and confidence in the judiciary.  It also deprives the parties of their right to the speedy disposition of their cases.  Failure to decide a case within the reglementary period is not excusable and constitutes gross inefficiency warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions on the defaulting judge.

The inefficiency of Judge Andoy is evident in his failure to decide 139 cases within the mandatory reglementary period for no apparent reason.  Some of these cases have been submitted for resolution as early as 1997.  Judge Andoy, upon finding himself unable to comply with the 90-day period, could have asked the Court for a reasonable period of extension to dispose of the cases.  The Court, mindful of the heavy caseload of judges, generally grants such requests for extension.  Yet, Judge Andoy also failed to make such a request.  Re: Cases submitted for decision before Hon. Teresito A. Andoy, former Judge, Municipal Trial Court, Cainta, Rizal, A.M. No. 09-9-163-MTC. May 6, 2010.

(Mon thanks Joyce Melcar T. Tan for her help in preparing this post.)