October 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected October 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; dishonesty.  It is clear from the records that respondent Atty. Ediza deceived the Spouses Floran when he asked them to unknowingly sign a deed of sale transferring a portion of their land to him.   Respondent also made it appear that the original owner of the land conveyed her rights therto to respondent and not to the Spouses Floran.  When the sale of the Spouses Floran’s land pushed through, respondent received half of the proceeds given by the buyer and falsely misled the Spouses Floran into thinking that he will register the remaining portion of the land.  Lamentably, Atty. Ediza played on the naïveté of the Spouses Floran to deprive them of their valued property.  This is an unsavory behavior from a member of the legal profession.  Aside from giving adequate attention, care and time to his client’s case, a lawyer is also expected to be truthful, fair and honest in protecting his client’s rights.  Once a lawyer fails in this duty, he is not true to his oath as a lawyer.  Respondent lawyer violated Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for which he is suspended from the practice of law for six months.  Nemesio Floran and Caridad Floran v. Atty. Roy Prule Ediza.  A.C. No. 5325.  October 19, 2011.

Attorney; grave misconduct.  Respondent attorney was found to have violated Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Respondent’s actions clearly show that she deceived complainant into lending money to her through the use of documents and false representations and by taking advantage of her education and complainant’s ignorance in legal matters.  As manifested by complainant, he would have never granted the loan to respondent were it not for respondent’s misrepresentation that she was authorized to sell the property and that complainant could register the “open” deed of sale if respondent fails to pay the loan. By her misdeed, respondent has eroded not only complainant’s perception of the legal profession but the public’s perception as well.  Her actions constitute gross misconduct for which she may be disciplined.  Tomas P. Tan, Jr. v. Atty. Haide V. Gumba.  A.C. No. 9000.  October 5, 2011.

Attorney; misconduct.  With his admission that he drafted and notarized another instrument that did not state the true consideration of the sale so as to reduce the capital gains and other taxes due on the transaction, respondent cannot escape liability for making an untruthful statement in a public document for an unlawful purpose.  As the second deed indicated an amount much lower than the actual price paid for the property sold, respondent abetted in depriving the Government of the right to collect the correct taxes due.  Not only did respondent assist the contracting parties in an activity aimed at defiance of the law, he likewise displayed lack of respect for and made a mockery of the solemnity of the oath in an AcknowledgmentBy notarizing such illegal and fraudulent document, he is entitling it full faith and credit upon its face, which it obviously does not deserve considering its nature and purpose.  Respondent’s actions violated not only Rule 1.02, Canon 1 of the Code of Responsibility, but pertinent sections of the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice as well.  Thus, respondent is meted the penalty of revocation of notarial commission and suspension from the practice of law for a period of two years.  Pacita Caalim-Verzonilla v. Atty. Victoriano G. Pascua.  A.C. No. 6655.  October 11, 2011.

Attorney; notarization.  The fact that the affiant previously appeared in person and signed the Deed of Donation before the respondent notary public does not justify the respondent’s act of notarizing the Deed of Donation, considering the affiant’s absence on the very day the document was actually notarized.  In the notarial acknowledgment of the Deed of Donation, respondent attested that Atty. Linco personally came and appeared before him on July 30, 2003.  Yet obviously, Atty. Linco could not have appeared before him on July 30, 2003, because the latter died on July 29, 2003 – a day before the Deed of Donation was notarized, and respondent was aware of that fact.  Clearly, respondent made a false statement and violated Rule 10.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and his oath as a lawyer.  Faithful observance and utmost respect of the legal solemnity of the oath in an acknowledgment or jurat is sacrosanct. Respondent should not notarize a document unless the persons who signed the same are the very same persons who executed and personally appeared before him to attest to the contents and truth of what are stated therein.  Atty. Florita S. Linco v. Atty. Jimmy D. Lacebal.  A.C. No. 7241.  October 17, 2011.

Attorney; notarization of illegal document.  A notary public should not facilitate the disintegration of a marriage and the family by encouraging the separation of the spouses and extrajudicially dissolving the conjugal partnership, which is exactly what respondent did in this case.  In preparing and notarizing an agreement for extrajudicial dissolution of marriage — a void document — respondent violated Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides that “[a] lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.” Respondent knew fully well that the “Kasunduan Ng Paghihiwalay” has no legal effect and is against public policy.  Therefore, respondent may be suspended from office as an attorney for breach of the ethics of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Rodolfo A. Espinosa and Maximo A. Glindo v. Atty. Julieta A. Omaña.  A.C. No. 9081.  October 12, 2011.

Court personnel; dishonesty.  The Court deems Benedictos’s falsification of her bundy cards tantamount to dishonesty.  This Court has defined dishonesty as the “(d)isposition 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.”  Dishonesty, being in the nature of a grave offense, carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in government service.  However, considering the presence of a mitigating factor – this being Benedicto’s first administrative case in her nineteen years in government service – suspension for six months is already a sufficient penalty.  Falsification of daily time records of Ma. Emcisa A. Benedictos, Administrative Officer I, Regional Trial Court, Malolos City, Bulacan.  A.M. No. P-10-2784.  October 19, 2011.

Court personnel; grave misconduct.  The act of the respondents in causing the removal of several pages in a copy of the 30 May 2011 Agenda of the Supreme Court’s Second Division is a malevolent transgression of their duties as court personnel—particularly, as employees detailed at the Office of Clerk of Court – Second Division (OCC-SD).  Such act is unauthorized and a blatant disregard of the standard operating procedures observed by the office in handling confidential documents, such as the Agenda.  It compromised the ability of the OCC-SD to efficiently perform its functions and also imperiled the environment of confidentiality the office is supposed to be clothed with.  Respondents clearly committed a willful breach of the trust reposed upon them by the Court.  Supreme Court v. Eddie V. Delgado, Utility Worker II, Joseph Lawrence M. Madeja, Clerk IV, and Wilfredo A. Florendo, Utility Worker II, all of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Second Division.  A.M. No. 2011-07-SC.  October 4, 2011.

Judge; failure to file statement of assets and liabilities.  Respondent clearly violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees when he failed to file his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for the years 2004-2008. He gave no explanation why he failed to file his SALN for five consecutive years.  While every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary. Hence, judges are strictly mandated to abide with the law, the Code of Judicial Conduct and with existing administrative policies in order to maintain the faith of our people in the administration of justice.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Uyag P. Usman, Presiding Judge, Shari’a Circuit Court, Pagadian City.  A.M. No. SCC-08-12.  October 19, 2011.

Judge; gross ignorance of the law.  The failure of Judge Infante to conduct a hearing prior to the grant of bail in a criminal case involving a crime punishable by a capital offense, and his mere reliance on the recommendation for bail by the public prosecutor, was inexcusable and reflected gross ignorance of the law and the rules as well as a cavalier disregard of its requirement.  He well knew that the determination of whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong was a matter of judicial discretion, and that the discretion lay not in the determination of whether or not a hearing should be held, but in the appreciation and evaluation of the weight of the Prosecution’s evidence of guilt against the accused.  His fault was made worse by his granting bail despite the absence of a petition for bail from the accused.  Consequently, any order he issued in the absence of the requisite evidence was not a product of sound judicial discretion but of whim and caprice and outright arbitrariness.  Atty. Franklin G. Gacal v. Judge Jaime I. Infante, Regional Trial Court, Branch 38, in Alabel, Sarangani.  A.M. No. RTJ-04-1845.  October 5, 2011.

Judge; undue delay.  As early as February 27, 2002, the case had been submitted for decision, but respondent judge had yet to render a decision by the time the administrative complaint against him was filed on November 6, 2009.  Judges should meticulously observe the periods prescribed by the Constitution for deciding cases because failure to comply with the said period transgresses the parties’ constitutional right to speedy disposition of their cases.  Thus, failure to decide cases within the ninety (90)-day reglementary period may warrant imposition of administrative sanctions on the erring judge.  However, the Court is not unmindful of circumstances that justify the delay in the disposition of the cases assigned to judges. When a judge sees such circumstances before the reglementary period ends, all that is needed is to simply ask the Court, with the appropriate justification, for an extension of time within which to decide the case.  Evidently, respondent Judge failed to do any of these options.  Antonio Y. Cabasares v. Judge Filemon A. Tandinco, Jr. Municipal Trial Court in Cities, 8th Judicial Region, Calbayog City, Western Samar.  A.M. No. MTJ-11-1793.  October 19, 2011.

Sheriff; gross neglect of duty.  Respondent Sheriff was remiss in performing his mandated duties: first, to give notice of the writ and demand that the judgment obligor and all persons claiming under him vacate the property within three (3) days; second, to enforce the writ by removing the judgment obligor and all persons claiming under the latter; third, to remove the latter’s personal belongings in the property as well as destroy, demolish or remove the improvements constructed thereon upon special court order; and fourth, to execute and make a return on the writ within 30 days from receipt of the writ and every 30 days thereafter until it is satisfied in full or until its effectivity expires.  The lapse of time – almost two years – it took for the respondent to unsuccessfully execute the writ demonstrates his utter lack of diligence in performing his duties.  Teresita Guerrero-Boylon v. Aniceto Boyles, Sheriff III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 2, Cebu City.  A.M. No. P-09-2716.  October 11, 2011.

(Mon thanks Christina Ortua for assisting in the preparation of this post.)