June 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Administrative proceedings; quantum of evidence.  It is a settled rule that in administrative proceedings that the complainant has the burden of proving the allegations in his or her complaint with substantial evidence.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the presumption that the respondent has regularly performed his duties will prevail.  Illupa vs. Abdullah, A.M. No. SCC-11-16-P. June 1, 2011

Administrative proceedings; mitigating circumstances.  In several jurisprudential precedents, the Court has refrained from imposing the actual administrative penalties prescribed by law or regulation in the presence of mitigating factors.  Factors such as the respondents’ length of service, the respondents’ acknowledgement of his or her infractions and feeling of remorse, family circumstances, humanitarian and equitable considerations, respondent’s advanced age, among other things, have had varying significance in the determination by the Court of the imposable penalty. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Aguilar, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2087, June 7, 2011

Court personnel; conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.  Respondent was found to have knowingly delayed the release of a warrant of arrest against an accused in a criminal case until the accused had left the country.  For knowingly delaying the release of the warrant of arrest, respondent had placed the court in a very negative light.  It prejudiced the Court’s standing in the community as it projected an image of a Court that is unable to enforce its processes on time.  For this reason, we find her liable not only for simple neglect of duty, but for the more serious offense of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.  Respondent clerk of court’s very much delayed action on the complainant’s request for a copy of the warrant of arrest in the criminal case and in the delivery of the warrant to the police authorities cast doubts on the capability of the court to administer justice fairly and expeditiously. Such act is likely to reflect adversely on the administration of justice.  Thus, the respondent should be made to answer for her infraction in a way that will serve as a lesson to everyone in the judiciary to be forthright in his dealings with the public, and to act speedily on matters within his area of responsibility, regardless of who is involved. The prejudice she caused and her liability for her conduct can in no way be extinguished or mitigated by the issuance of a second warrant of arrest, or by the complainant’s subsequent voluntary desistance from pursuing the case.  The harm had already been done on the aggrieved party and on the judiciary when these developments transpired. Sonido vs. Ilocso, A.M. No. P-10-2794. June 1, 2011

Court personnel; conduct unbecoming. The respondent MTCC court interpreter harassed and threatened her neighbors and even used the police to perpetrate these acts. By her actions, she directly implied that she was using her court position to unilaterally enforce what she wanted. Employees of the judiciary should be living examples of uprightness, not only in the performance of official duties, but also in their personal and private dealings with other people, so as to preserve at all times the good name and standing of the courts in the community. Any scandalous behavior or any act that may erode the people’s esteem for the judiciary is unbecoming of an employee. The Code of Judicial Ethics mandates that court personnel must not only be, but also be perceived to be, free from any impropriety with respect to both their official duties and their behavior anywhere else. The respondent’s ugly display of an oppressive and overbearing character failed to meet the exacting standards required of employees of the judiciary and deserves administrative sanctions from the Court. The respondent’s continued harassment of complainants to force them to leave the premises so she could occupy the whole place cannot and should not be countenanced. Clearly, respondent is guilty of oppression and of conduct unbecoming a court employee — acts that amount to simple misconduct.  Mendez vs. Balbuena, A.M. No. P-11-2931. June 1, 2011

Court personnel; grave misconduct. Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice and high standards are expected of them. Their conduct, at all times, must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum but must, at all times, be above suspicion.  Part of this stringent requirement is that agents of the law should refrain from the use of abusive, offensive, scandalous, menacing or otherwise improper language. Judicial employees are expected to accord due respect, not only to their superiors, but also to others and their rights at all times. Their every act and word should be characterized by prudence, restraint, courtesy and dignity. The respondent’s arrogant behavior was a violation of these rules of conduct for judicial employees. Flores vs. Pascasio, A.M. No. P-06-2130, June 13, 2011

Court personnel; grave misconduct.  Respondent sheriff was found guilty of two offenses: (1) failure to make a return of a writ of execution within the period provided by the Rules of Court; and (2) failure to turn over the checks he received by virtue of the implementation of the writ to the court issuing it within the same day he received them.  The duty of a sheriff to make a return of the writ is ministerial and it is not his duty to wait for the plaintiff to decide whether or not to accept the checks as payment.  When a writ is placed in the hands of a sheriff, it is his duty, in the absence of any instructions to the contrary, to proceed with celerity and promptness to execute it according to its mandate. A sheriff has no discretion whatsoever with respect to the disposition of the amounts he receives. If he finds that there is a need to clarify what to do with the checks, prudence and reasonableness dictate that clarification be sought immediately from the clerk or judge issuing it. A sheriff  is expected to know the rules of procedure pertaining to his functions as an officer of the court, relative to the implementation of writs of execution, and should, at all times, show a high degree of professionalism in the performance of his duties. Any act deviating from the procedure laid down by the Rules is misconduct that warrants disciplinary action. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Tolosa, A.M. No. P-09-2715. June 13, 2011

Court personnel; gross neglect of duty. [Respondent] should be reminded that it is the duty of the court stenographer who has attended a session of a court to immediately deliver to the clerk of court all the notes he has taken, the same to be attached to the record of the case. The failure to submit the TSNs within the period prescribed constitutes gross neglect of duty. Gross neglect of duty is classified as a grave offense and punishable by dismissal even if for the first offense. The performance of a stenographer’s duty is essential to the prompt and proper administration of justice, and his inaction hampers the administration of justice and erodes public faith in the judiciary. No less than the Constitution mandates that public officers must serve the people with utmost respect and responsibility. Public office is a public trust. Absin vs. Montalla, A.M. No. P-10-2829. June 21, 2011

Court personnel; misconduct. Clerk of Court Joaquino was found guilty of grave misconduct, abuse of authority, and gross ignorance of the law. He filed a second motion for reconsideration contending  that the penalty of six (6) months suspension without pay is too harsh and severe for the offense he was found guilty of. The Court, in the spirit of compassion, lowered the penalty imposed but warned him that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future shall merit his dismissal from the service. Clerks of court occupy a sensitive position in the judicial system, they are required to safeguard the integrity of the court and its proceedings, to earn and preserve respect therefor, to maintain loyalty thereto and to the judge as superior officer, to maintain the authenticity and correctness of court records, and to uphold the confidence of the public in the administration of justice. Development Bank of the Philippines vs. Joaquinto, A.M. No. P-10-283, June 8, 2011

Judge; dishonesty. The accomplishment of the Personal Data Sheet (PDS) is a requirement under the Civil Service Rules and Regulations for employment in the government. Judge Aguilar was guilty of dishonesty in filling out her PDS when she answered that she had no pending administrative case against her and that she had not been formally charged nor found guilty of any administrative charge.   Her failure to disclose such facts in her PDS filed upon her assumption of office when she already had notice of the adverse decision therein constitutes dishonesty, considered a grave offense under the Administrative Code of 1987, as well as the Civil Service Rules, with the corresponding penalty of dismissal from service even for the first offense. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Aguilar, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2087, June 7, 2011

Judge; gross ignorance of the law. Considering that complainant had already manifested in court, albeit belatedly, the presence of what it considered to be a valid Certification to File Action in court due to unsuccessful conciliation, respondent judge’s act of referring the case to barangay conciliation rendered its purpose moot and academic. The rules of procedure are clear and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation. The failure to apply elementary rules of procedure constitutes gross ignorance of the law and procedure.  Neither good faith nor lack of malice will exonerate respondent because the rules violated were basic procedural rules.  All that was needed for respondent to do was to apply them. Diaz vs. Gestopa, A.M. No. MTJ-11-1786. June 22, 2011

Judge; gross inefficiency. Respondent judge is liable for gross inefficiency for failing to adopt a system of record management in her court. Furthermore, respondent judge resolved a motion for reconsideration which was filed way beyond the required period.  There was also a delay in sending the records of the appealed case to the CA.  Respondent judge violated Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which provides that “A judge shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.” Bareng vs. Daguna, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2246. June 1, 2011

Lawyers; administrative proceedings vis-à-vis contempt proceedings. When the Court initiates contempt proceedings and/or disciplinary proceedings against lawyers for intemperate and discourteous language and behavior directed at the courts, the evil sought to be prevented is the same – the degradation of the courts and the loss of trust in the administration of justice.  For this reason, it is not unusual for the Court to cite authorities on bar discipline (involving the duty to give due respect to the courts) in contempt cases against lawyers and vice versa. When the Court chooses to institute an administrative case against a respondent lawyer, the mere citation or discussion in the orders or decision in the administrative case of jurisprudence involving contempt proceedings does not transform the action from a disciplinary proceeding to one for contempt. Re: Letter of UP Law Faculty entitled Restoring Integrity: A statement by the Faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law etc., A.M. No. 10-10-4-SC, June 7, 2011

Shari’a Court personnel; abuse of authority. Respondent, a clerk of court of a Shari’a court, was found not to have abused his authority in issuing a certificate of divorce upon the request of the complainant’s wife.  The issuance of a certificate of divorce is within the respondent clerk of court’s duties as defined by law in the Muslim Code of the Philippines. The respondent merely performed his ministerial duty.  The alleged erroneous entries on the Certificate of Divorce cannot be attributed to respondent considering that it is only his duty to receive, file and register the certificate of divorce presented to him for registration.  Further, even if there were indeed erroneous entries on the certificate of divorce, such errors cannot be corrected nor cancelled through an administrative complaint. Illupa vs. Abdullah, A.M. No. SCC-11-16-P. June 1, 2011  

(Mon thanks Glaisa Po for her assistance in preparing this post.)