September 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney; mistake binding on client. Petitioner cannot simply harp on the mistakes and negligence of his lawyer allegedly beset with personal problems and emotional depression.   The negligence and mistakes of counsel are binding on the client.  There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the reckless or gross negligence of counsel deprives the client of due process of law, or when the application of the general rule results in the outright deprivation of one’s property or liberty through a technicality. However, in this case, we find no reason to exempt petitioner from the general rule. The admitted inability of his counsel to attend fully and ably to the prosecution of his appeal and other sorts of excuses should have prompted petitioner to be more vigilant in protecting his rights and replace said counsel with a more competent lawyer.  Instead, petitioner continued to allow his counsel to represent him on appeal and even up to this Court, apparently in the hope of moving this Court with a fervent plea for relaxation of the rules for reason of petitioner’s age and medical condition.  Verily, diligence is required not only from lawyers but also from their clients. Gregorio Dimarucot y Garcia vs.. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183975,September 20, 2010.

Attorney; mistake binding on client. Considering the initial 15-day extension granted by the CA and the injunction under Sec. 4, Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure against further extensions “except for the most compelling reason”, it was clearly inexcusable for petitioner to expediently plead its counsel’s heavy workload as ground for seeking an additional extension of 10 days within which to file its petition for review.  To our mind, petitioner would do well to remember that, rather than the low gate to which parties are unreasonably required to stoop, procedural rules are designed for the orderly conduct of proceedings and expeditious settlement of cases in the courts of law.  Like all rules, they are required to be followed and utter disregard of the same cannot be expediently rationalized by harping on the policy of liberal construction which was never intended as an unfettered license to disregard the letter of the law or, for that matter, a convenient excuse to substitute substantial compliance for regular adherence thereto.  When it comes to compliance with time rules, the Court cannot afford inexcusable delay. J. Tiosejo Investment Corporation vs.. Sps. Benjamin and Eleanor Ang, G.R. No. 174149, September 8, 2010.

Attorney’s fees. It is settled that a claim for attorney’s fees may be asserted either in the very action in which a lawyer rendered his services or in a separate action.  But enforcing it in the main case bodes well as it forestalls multiplicity of suits.  The intestate court in this case, therefore, correctly allowed Atty. Siapian to interject his claim for attorney’s fees in the estate proceedings against some of the heirs and, after hearing, adjudicate the same on April 3, 1997 with an order for Arturo, et al to pay Atty. Siapian the fees of P3 million due him.  Since the award of P3 million in attorney’s fees in favor of Atty. Siapian had already become final and executory, the intestate court was within its powers to order the Register of Deeds to annotate his lien on the Estate’s titles to its properties.  The Estate has no cause for complaint since the lien was neither a claim nor a burden against the Estate itself.  It was not enforceable against the Estate but only against Arturo, et al, who constituted the majority of the heirs. Heirs and/or Estate of Atty. Rolando P. Siapian, represented by Susan S. Mendoza vs. Intestate Estate of the Late Eufrocina G. Mackay as represented by Dr. Roderick Mackay, et al., G.R. No. 184799, September 1, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Dishonesty is defined as “intentionally making a false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception of fraud in securing his examination, registration, appointment or promotion.” Chulyao employed her sister, Pangowon, to take the July 31, 1988 CSPE conducted in Baguio City for her and in her behalf and claimed the result thereof as her own in her personal data sheet accomplished on April 23, 2007. Dishonesty and falsification are malevolent acts that have no place in the Judiciary. Re: Complaint of the Civil Service Commission vs. Rita S. Chulyao, A.M. No. P-07-2292, September 28, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Azurin’s act of deliberately not registering in the CTRM to hide his habitual tardiness for the third time, which is punishable by dismissal, constitutes dishonesty.  Dishonesty refers to a person’s “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.” By repeatedly making it appear that he has consistently rendered a full day’s service, when he had actually been tardy, Azurin defrauded the public and betrayed the trust reposed in him as an employee of the highest Court.  Azurin’s dishonesty definitely falls short of the strict standards required of every court employee, that is, to be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. Re: failure of various employees to register their time of arrival and/or departure from office in the chronolog machine, A.M. No. 2005-21-SC, September 28, 2010.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. There is no doubt that Padillo received from Escalona P20,000 purportedly “for fiscal & judge” and “for warrant officer” and this amount was “intended to facilitate” the case against Dalit. Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct of Court Personnel provides that “(C)ourt personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any explicit or implicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions.” Lourdes S. Escalona vs. Consolacion S. Padilla, A.M. No. P-10-2785, September 21, 2010.

Court personnel; simple misconduct. This Court cannot tolerate misconduct on the part of its employees.  The reported exchanges between Bunao and Wee in the court premises, and in the presence of Judge Mendrado V. Corpuz and Assistant Prosecutor Alfredo A. Balajo, Jr., is disgraceful behavior.  Shouting at each other within the court premises exhibits discourtesy and disrespect not only towards co-workers but to the court as well.  The conduct and behavior of every official and employee of an agency involved in the administration of justice, from the presiding judge to the most junior clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility.  Their conduct must at all times be characterized by strict propriety and decorum so as to earn and keep the public’s respect for the judiciary.  This standard is applied with respect to a court employee’s dealings not only with the public but also with his or her co-workers in the service. Tanching L. Wee, etc., et al. vs. Virgilio T. Bunao, Jr., etc / Virgilio T. Bunao, Jr., etc. vs. Tanching L. Wee, etc., A.M. No. P-08-2487/A.M. No. P-08-2493, September 29, 2010.

Court personnel; violation of office rules and regulations. Considering the various justifications proffered by respondent employees for failure to register their time of arrival and departure in the CTRM (for example, [1] domestic and office concerns, [2] long travel time, [3] forgetfulness, and [4] malfunctioning CTRM), the Court finds no error in the recommendation of the OAS finding them guilty of Violation of Reasonable Office Rules and Regulations, more specifically Administrative Circular No. 36-2001. As stated by the OAS, “rules and regulations are [issued] to attain harmony, smooth operation, maximize efficiency and productivity, with the ultimate objective of realizing the functions of particular offices and agencies of the government.”  Thus, any breach of such rules and regulations cannot be countenanced. Re: failure of various employees to register their time of arrival and/or departure from office in the chronolog machine, A.M. No. 2005-21-SC, September 28, 2010.

Judge; grave misconduct. [N]o judge has a right to solicit sexual favors from a party litigant even from a woman of loose morals.  In Tan v. Pacuribot,  this Court further stressed: We have repeatedly reminded members of the Judiciary to so conduct themselves as to be beyond reproach and suspicion, and to be free from any appearance of impropriety in their personal behavior, not only in the discharge of their official duties but also in their everyday lives. For no position exacts a greater demand on the moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary. Judges are mandated to maintain good moral character and are at all times expected to observe irreproachable behavior so as not to outrage public decency. Susan O. Reyes vs. Judge Manuel N. Duque, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2136,September 21, 2010.

Judges; inhibition. The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for inhibition, especially when the charge is without basis.  Extrinsic evidence must further be presented to establish bias, bad faith, malice, or corrupt purpose, in addition to palpable error which may be inferred from the decision or order itself.  This Court has to be shown acts or conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before the latter can be branded the stigma of being biased or partial. BGen. (Ret.) Jose S. Ramiscal, Jr. vs. Hon. Jose R. Hernandez, G.R. Nos. 173057-74, September 20, 2010.

Judge; undue delay in rendering decision. Respondent indeed gave the defense ten (10) days to submit its reply to the prosecution’s comment on the motion for reconsideration and, thereafter, she would resolve all pending incidents in said consolidated cases.  The reglementary period to resolve the motion in question began to run from February 8, 2009 or after the lapse of ten days from January 29, 2009.  Respondent, however, did not act on the matter and allowed a hiatus in the consolidated criminal cases. A judge cannot choose to prolong the period for resolving pending incidents and deciding cases beyond the period authorized by law. Let it be underscored that it is the sworn duty of judges to administer justice without undue delay under the time-honored precept that justice delayed is justice denied. Judges should act with dispatch in resolving pending incidents, so as not to frustrate and delay the satisfaction of a judgment. Judge Adoracion G. Angeles vs. Judge Maria Elisa Sempio Diy, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2248, September 29, 2010.

Motion for reconsideration; second motion for reconsideration. While as a general rule the Court does not give due course to second motions for reconsideration, this is not without exceptions, as when there is an extraordinarily persuasive reason and after an express leave has been obtained, both of which are present in this case.  In denying respondent’s first motion for partial reconsideration, the Court applied the ruling in Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Delia H. Panganiban where it was held that a Judge’s unblemished record will not justify her lapses.  However, as correctly pointed out by respondent in her second motion for partial reconsideration, said case should not have been applied, as it presupposes that respondent indeed committed lapses which her long service and unblemished reputation would not justify while she has always maintained that she had not committed the act complained of, that is, the non-filing of the leaves of absence for May 3 and August 3, 2005 because she did not have to.  Indeed, if respondent committed no lapse or violation, then the Court’s denial of her first motion for partial reconsideration on the basis of the Panganiban decision deserves to be reviewed. Sr. State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco vs. Hon. Adoracion G. Angeles, A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-2353-RTJ, September 6, 2010.

(Mon thanks Barbara Anne A. Gandionco for her help in preparing this post.)