October 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; misconduct. Respondent (lawyer) was ordered to reimburse his client Php16,300.00.  Nine years after the directive was made, he effected payment.  Respondent’s belated “compliance” with the order glaringly speaks of his lack of candor, of his dishonesty, if not defiance of Court orders, qualities that do not endear him to the esteemed brotherhood of lawyers. The lack of any sufficient justification or explanation for the nine-year delay in complying with the Resolutions betrays a clear and contumacious disregard for the lawful orders of this Court. Such disrespect constitutes a clear violation of the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility. Leonard W. Richards vs. Patricio A. Asoy, A.C. No. 2655, October 12, 2010.

Court personnel; conduct prejudicial to best interest of the service. This case filed by Argoso against Regalado  involves money received by Regalado from an interested  party to implement a writ of execution.  Regalado should not have received money from Argoso for his transportation to Daet, without previously submitting his expenses for the court’s approval.  Regalado’s admission that he received money without complying with the proper procedure in enforcing writs of execution, made him guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Levi M. Agroso vs. Achilles Andrew Regalado II, etc., A.M. No. P-09-2735, October 12, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Respondent (clerk of court) failed to regularly submit monthly reports of collections and deposits, as required by SC Circular No. 32-93, and official receipts and other documents, despite the Court’s repeated orders.  The failure to remit the funds in due time amounts to dishonesty and grave misconduct, which the Court cannot tolerate for they diminish the people’s faith in the judiciary.  Office of the Court Administrator vs. Marcela V. Santos, Clerk of Court II etc., A.M. No. P-06-2287, October 12, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty etc. Fernandez deserves to be sanctioned.  Her habitual tardiness and absenteeism, coupled with her submission of a falsified document to cover up some of her absences, do not speak well of her fitness for employment in the public service, especially in the judiciary.  We cannot ignore the gross dishonesty involved in her submission of a falsified document to cover up several unauthorized absences.   Isabel D. Marquez vs. Jocelyn C. Fernandez, A.M. No. P-07-2358, October 19, 2010.

Court personnel; gross misconduct. On several instances, Abellanosa demanded and received various sums of money from party-litigants in cases pending before the RTC of Makati, Branch 137.  Also, the Order of the Makati RTC Branch 137 was published in the Taliba newspaper, but it did not go through the mandated procedure for distribution of judicial notices or orders by raffle to qualified newspapers or periodicals under P.D. No. 1079.  Abellanosa’s acts of soliciting money from litigants to facilitate the publication of their petitions or orders of the court clearly manifested her desire to achieve personal gain and constitutes gross misconduct which is deplorable. Judge Jenny Lind R. Aldecoa-Delorino vs. Jessica B. Abellanosa, etc./Jessica B. Abellanosa, etc. vs. Judge Jenny Lind R. Aldecoa-Delorino/Jessica B. Abellanosa etc. vs. Rowena L. Ramos, etc., A.M. No. P-08-2472/A.M. No. RTJ-08-2106/A.M. No. P-08-2420, October 19, 2010.

Court personnel; misconduct. Marcelo deserves to be sanctioned for the grave transgressions he committed while in office. As clerk of court, he was in charge of the court’s funds and was responsible for their collection and safekeeping. Marcelo made collections for the court’s several funds and never bothered to deposit these collections in the official court depository bank – a violation of the rule that all clerks of court are required to deposit all collections with the LBP within twenty-four (24) hours upon receipt of the collections.  Marcelo also held on to his collections, thus committing another violation. Clerks of court may not keep funds in their custody. His acts and omissions constitute a betrayal of the trust and confidence the Court reposes on a senior officer. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Rodelio E. Marcelo and Ma. Corazon D. Espanola, MTCC, San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan, A.M. No. P-06-2221. October 5, 2010.

Court personnel; misconduct. Under CSC Memorandum Circular No. 04, Series of 1991, an officer or employee of the civil service is considered habitually tardy if he incurs tardiness, regardless of the number of minutes, ten (10) times a month for at least two (2) months in a semester, or for at least two (2) consecutive months. We consistently ruled that non-office obligations, household chores, and domestic concerns are not sufficient reasons to excuse or justify habitual tardiness. Hence, Ms. Eseller’s reasons for her tardiness – her need to attend to her children and her problems in the workplace – cannot exculpate her. By being habitually tardy, Ms. Eseller fell short of the stringent standard of conduct demanded from everyone connected with the administration of justice. Leave Division-OAS, Office of the Court Administrator vs. Bethel I. Eseller, Interpreter II, MTCC, Branch 3, Bacolod City, A.M. No. P-10-2807, October 6, 2010.

Court personnel; simple misconduct. The rule requires that the sheriff executing the writs shall provide an estimate of the expenses to be incurred that shall be approved by the court. Upon the court’s approval, the interested party shall then deposit the amount with the clerk of court and ex-officio sheriff. Thereafter, the expenses shall then be disbursed to the assigned deputy sheriff who shall execute the writ subject to the latter’s liquidation upon the return of the writ. Any amount unspent shall be returned to the interested party. Clearly, the rule does not allow direct payment of sheriff expenses from the interested party to the sheriff. The respondent failed to comply with the rules and is therefore, liable for simple misconduct. Renato Miguel D. Garcia vs. Ricky Montejar etc., A.M. No. P-10-2860, October 20,2010.

Judge; ignorance of the law. Respondent Judge should have granted the plaintiff’s motion for immediate execution considering that the defendant did not file the sufficient supersedeas bond despite having appealed. Respondent Judge’s excuse, that he had lost jurisdiction over the case by virtue of the defendant’s appeal, was unacceptable in light of the clear and explicit text of Section 19 of Rule 70 of the Rules of Court. He could not credibly justify his omission to act according to the provision by claiming good faith or honest belief, or by asserting lack of malice or bad faith. These justify non-compliance only when there is an as-yet unsettled doubt on the meaning or applicability of a rule or legal provision. Lourdes B. Ferrer and Prosperidad M. Arandez vs. Judge Romeo A. Rabaca,  Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 25, Manila, A.M. No. MTJ-08-1580, October 6, 2010.

Judge; release of retirement benefits. Judge Luczon averred that Trinidad Irorita filed a disbarment case against his father, Atty. Jimmy Luczon.  He maintained that he is not the Atty. Jimmy Luczon referred to as respondent in the instant case. He retired from the service as Presiding Judge of RTC Tuguegarao Branch 1.  His retirement benefits, however, have yet to be released since the necessary clearances cannot be issued due to the pendency of the instant case.  The Court orders the Office of the Bar Confidant to make the necessary correction in the records of both Atty. Jimmy C. Luczon and Judge Jimmy Henry F. Luczon, Jr., in order to facilitate the release of the retirement benefits of Judge Luczon. Trinidad Irorita vs. Atty. Jimmy Lucson, A.C. No. 3872, October 4, 2010.

Judge; undue delay. Section 15(1), Article VIII, of the Constitution requires a trial judge to dispose of all cases or matters within three months from the time of their submission for decision. Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct admonishes all judges to dispose of their courts’ business promptly and to decide cases within the required period.  Judge Herrera was guilty of undue delay in the disposition of the cases pending him his court. His failure to decide his cases with dispatch constituted gross inefficiency. His plea of heavy workload, lack of sufficient time, poor health, and physical impossibility could not excuse him. Without an order of extension granted by the Court, a failure to decide even a single case within the required period rightly constitutes gross inefficiency that merits administrative sanction.  Re: Cases submitted for decision before Judge Damaso A. Herrera, Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna A.M. No. RTJ-08-1924, October 13, 2010.

Judge; undue delay. Any delay in the determination or resolution of a case, no matter how insignificant the case may seem to a judge, is delay in the administration of justice in general. Respondent Judge Montojo’s delay in acting on pending cases clearly demonstrated his inefficiency. He failed to control the proceedings or course of the cases; to impose deadlines in the submission of documents or performance of acts incident to the disposition of cases; and to resolve pending incidents on time, and take appropriate action on incidents arising in the course of proceedings. A judge should at all times remain in full control of the proceedings in his sala. Narciso Bernando, Jr. vs. Judge Peter M. Montojo, A.M. No. MTJ-10-1754, October 20, 2010.

Judge; undue delay in rendering decision. The subject criminal cases – violation of B.P. Blg. 22 – are covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure pursuant to A.M. No. 00-11-01-SC.  Section 17 of this Rule requires the court to promulgate a judgment not later than thirty (30) days after termination of trial. Judge Andoy should have rendered a decision within 30 days from the termination of trial. Even assuming that the subsequent resettings of the cases for trial were valid, he should have rendered a decision within 30 days from the date the cases were finally considered submitted for decision. His failure to meet this deadline is a patent indication that he did not take into account and had disregarded the Rule on Summary Procedure. Cirila S. Raymund vs. Judge Teresito A. Andoy, A.M. No. MTJ-09-1738, October 6, 2010.

Judge; undue delay in rendering decision. Respondent Judge failed in his duty to promptly and expeditiously dispose of the subject civil case. In so failing, he ran afoul of Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 28 dated July 3, 1989, whose paragraph three provides: The ninety (90) day period for deciding the case shall commence to run from submission of the case for decision without memoranda; in case the court requires or allows its filing, the case shall be considered submitted for decision upon the filing of the last memorandum or upon the expiration. The respondent should have issued the order directing the stenographers to submit the TSNs after the complainant had manifested that the defendants had not filed their memorandum. Eduardo B. Olaguer vs. Judge Alfredo D. Ampuan, A.M. No. MTJ-10-1769, October 6, 2010.

Judge; various offenses. Five administrative cases were filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) against Judge Alberto L. Lerma (respondent judge) for violating Supreme Court rules, directives, and circulars, for making untruthful statements in his certificates of service, for gross ignorance of the law and/or gross negligence, for delay in rendering an order, for abusing judicial authority and discretion, and for serious irregularity.  He was found guilty of all of the charges.  The totality of all these findings underscore the fact that respondent judge’s actions served to erode the people’s faith and confidence in the judiciary. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Judge Alberto L. Lerma/Atty. Lourdes A. Ona vs. Judge Alberto L. Lerma/Jose Mari L. Duarte vs. Judge Alberto L. Lerma/ Ret. General Meliton D. Goyena vs. Judge Alberto L. Lerma/Office of the Court Administrator Vs. Judge Alberto L. Lerma, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2076/A.M. No. RTJ-07-2077/A.M. No. RTJ-2078/A.M. No. RTJ-07-2079/A.M. No. RTJ-07-2080, October 12, 2010.

Judges; violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. That the assailed Resolutions issued by respondents favored Northern Islands Co., Inc. and the Guy family does not necessarily render respondents guilty of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, absent proven particular acts of manifest, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence, good faith and regularity being generally presumed in the performance of official duties by public officers.  In order for this administrative offense to prosper, the subject order or actuation of the judge in the performance of his official duties must not only be contrary to existing law and jurisprudence but, more importantly, must be attended by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.  3-D Industries, Inc. and Smartel Phil., Inc. vs. Justices Vicente Q. Roxas and Juan Q. Enriquez, A.M. No. CA-10-50-J, October 5, 2010.

Plagiarism. The passing off of the work of another as one’s own is an indispensable element of plagiarism. Whether or not the footnote is sufficiently detailed, so as to satisfy the footnoting standards of counsel for petitioners is not an ethical matter but one concerning clarity of writing.  The statement “See Tams, Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law (2005)” in the Vinuya decision is an attribution no matter if Tams thought that it gave him somewhat less credit than he deserved.  Such attribution altogether negates the idea that Justice Del Castillo passed off the challenged passages as his own.

The Vinuya decision lifted passages from Criddle-Descent’s article.  Criddle-Descent’s footnotes were carried into the Vinuya decision’s own footnotes but no attributions were made to the two authors.  One of Justice Del Castillo’s researchers, a court-employed attorney, explained how she accidentally deleted the attributions, originally planted in the beginning drafts of her report to him.   She said that she did her research electronically.  In the course of editing and cleaning up her draft, the researcher accidentally deleted the attributions. Given the operational properties of the Microsoft program in use by the Court, the accidental decapitation of attributions to sources of research materials is not remote. The Microsoft Word program does not have a function that raises an alarm when original materials are cut up or pruned.

Petitioners’ theory that intent is not material in committing plagiarism since all that a writer has to do, to avoid the charge, is to enclose lifted portions with quotation marks and acknowledge the sources from which these were taken,  ignores the fact that plagiarism is essentially a form of fraud where intent to deceive is inherent.  Plagiarism presupposes intent and a deliberate, conscious effort to steal another’s work and pass it off as one’s own.

The subject passages were reproduced in the Vinuya decision without placing them in quotation marks.  But such passages consisted of common definitions and terms, abridged history of certain principles of law, and similar frequently repeated phrases that, in the world of legal literature, already belong to the public realm. The judge is not expected to produce original scholarship in every respect.

Since the attributions to Criddle-Descent and Ellis were accidentally deleted, it is impossible for any person reading the decision to connect the same to the works of those authors as to conclude that in writing the decision Justice Del Castillo “twisted” their intended messages.  And the lifted passages provided mere background facts that established the state of international law at various stages of its development.  These are neutral data that could support conflicting theories regarding whether or not the judiciary has the power today to order the Executive Department to sue another country or whether the duty to prosecute violators of international crimes has attained the status of jus cogens.

On occasions judges and justices have mistakenly cited the wrong sources, failed to use quotation marks, inadvertently omitted necessary information from footnotes or endnotes.  But these do not, in every case, amount to misconduct. Only errors that are tainted with fraud, corruption, or malice are subject of disciplinary action.

The Justice’s researcher was competent in the field of assignment given her.  She finished law from a leading law school, graduated third in her class, served as Editor-in Chief of her school’s Law Journal, and placed fourth in the bar examinations when she took it.  She earned a master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights from a prestigious university in the United States under the Global-Hauser program.  Justice Del Castillo did not exercise bad judgment in assigning the research work in the Vinuya case to her. In the matter of the charge of plagiarism, A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC, October 12, 2010.

Statement of UP Professors. While the statement was meant to reflect the educators’ opinion on the allegations of plagiarism against Justice Del Castillo, they treated such allegation not only as an established fact, but a truth. They expressed dissatisfaction over Justice Del Castillo’s explanation on how he cited the primary sources of the quoted portions and yet arrived at a contrary conclusion to those of the authors of the articles supposedly plagiarized.  The statement bore certain remarks which raise concern for the Court. The first paragraph concludes with a reference to the decision in Vinuya v. Executive Secretary as a reprehensible act of dishonesty and misrepresentation by the Highest Court of the land.  The authors also not only assumed that Justice Del Castillo committed plagiarism, they went further by directly accusing the Court of perpetrating extraordinary injustice by dismissing the petition of the comfort women in Vinuya v. Executive Secretary.  They further attempt to educate this Court on how to go about the review of the case.  The insult to the members of the Court was aggravated by imputations of deliberately delaying the resolution of the said case, its dismissal on the basis of “polluted sources,” the Court’s alleged indifference to the cause of petitioners, as well as the supposed alarming lack of concern of the members of the Court for even the most basic values of decency and respect.

The publication of a statement by the faculty of the UP College of Law regarding the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court was totally unnecessary, uncalled for and a rash act of misplaced vigilance.  Of public knowledge is the ongoing investigation precisely to determine the truth of such allegations.  More importantly, the motion for reconsideration of the decision alleged to contain plagiarized materials is still pending before the Court.  We made it clear in the case of In re Kelly that any publication, pending a suit, reflecting upon the court, the jury, the parties, the officers of the court, the counsel with reference to the suit, or tending to influence the decision of the controversy, is contempt of court and is punishable.

The UP Law faculty would fan the flames and invite resentment against a resolution that would not reverse the Vinuya decision.  This runs contrary to their obligation as law professors and officers of the Court to be the first to uphold the dignity and authority of this Court, to which they owe fidelity according to the oath they have taken as attorneys, and not to promote distrust in the administration of justice. Re: Letter of the UP Law Faculty entitled “Restoring Integrity: A Statement by the Faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law on the Allegations of Plagiarism and Misrepresentation in the Supreme Court, A.M. No. 10-10-4-SC. October 19, 2010.

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