November 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney; aiding illegal practice of law.  It has been established that Dela Rosa who is not a member of the Bar misrepresented herself as respondent’s collaborating counsel.  There was also sufficient evidence to prove that respondent allowed Dela Rosa to illegally practice law, appear in court, and give legal assistance to respondent’s client.  This is in violation of Canon 9 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states that “[a] lawyer shall not, directly or indirectly, assist in the unauthorized practice of law.”  The term “practice of law” implies customarily or habitually holding oneself out to the public as a lawyer for compensation as a source of livelihood or in consideration of his services.  Holding one’s self out as a lawyer may be shown by acts indicative of that purpose, such as identifying oneself as attorney, appearing in court in representation of a client, or associating oneself as a partner of a law office for the general practice of law.  Atty. Edita Noe-Lacsamana v. Atty. Yolando F. Busmente.  A.C. No. 7269.  November 23, 2011.

Attorney; competence and diligence required.  Respondent attorneys were engaged to represent complainant and his son in in a civil case for forcible entry and damages.  However, respondents failed to file an answer within the 10-day period required by the summons and the Rules of Court.  Respondents claimed that, to their mind, the civil case was actually for possession, notwithstanding that its title is for forcible entry, and that they mistakenly assumed that the court would first issue an order stating that the case falls under the rules on summary procedure before requiring their clients to answer. They further claimed that  when no such order was issued by the court, they again incorrectly assumed that the regular rules of procedure will apply and that they have fifteen days to answer.  All these, without seeking a clarification from the court or ascertaining exactly when the answer should be filed and despite the summons issued and served stating a ten day period to file an answer.  The Supreme Court did not find respondents’ defenses acceptable as it betrayed a lack of necessary competence and diligence.  The respondents had in fact been negligent, or worse, had failed to exercise the required competence and diligence in filing the answer to the complaint.    Pursuant to Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer is expected to be acquainted with the rudiments of law and legal procedure, and a client who deals with him has the right to expect not just a good amount of professional learning and competence but also a whole-hearted fealty to the client’s cause.  Rogelio F. Estavillo v. Attys. Gemmo G. Guillermo and Erme S. Labayog.  A.C. No. 6899. November 16, 2011.

Attorney; conflict of interest.  Respondent attorney drafted a demand letter on behalf of complainant in connection with  the dishonored checks issued by Ms. Koa.  In the ensuing criminal cases, respondent filed a Motion for Consolidation on behalf of Ms. Koa and appeared at the preliminary investigation hearing as Ms. Koa’s counsel.  Respondent argued that no lawyer-client relationship existed between him and complainant because there was no professional fee paid for the services he rendered.  Moreover, he argued that he drafted the demand letter only as a personal favor to complainant who is a close friend.  A lawyer-client relationship can exist notwithstanding the close friendship between complainant and respondent.  The relationship was established the moment complainant sought legal advice from respondent regarding the dishonored checks.  By drafting the demand letter respondent further affirmed such relationship.  The fact that the demand letter was not utilized in the criminal complaint filed and that respondent was not eventually engaged by complainant to represent her in the criminal cases is of no moment.  Likewise, the non-payment of professional fee will not exculpate respondent from liability.  Absence of monetary consideration does not exempt lawyers from complying with the prohibition against pursuing cases with conflicting interests.  The prohibition attaches from the moment the attorney-client relationship is established and extends beyond the duration of the professional relationship.  Lydia Castro-Justo v. Atty. Rodolfo Galing.  A.C. No. 6174.  November 16, 2011.

Attorney; gross misconduct.  Complainant engaged the legal services of respondent to assist her and her child in pursuing and protecting their rights as heirs of her deceased husband who was a British national, including claiming insurance proceeds due to the complainant and her child, as well as processing visa applications for travel to England.    Respondent solicited various sums from the complainant, allegedly for purposes do defraying expenses in connection with the engagement.  Respondent admitted having received money from complainant but failed to render an accounting or, at least, apprised the complainant of the actual expenses incurred.  Worse, respondent even inculcated in the mind of the complainant that she had to adhere to the nefarious culture of giving “grease money” or lagay to the British Embassy personnel, as if it was an ordinary occurrence in the normal course of conducting official business transactions as a means to expedite the visa applications.  This runs afoul the dictum in Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states that “a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.”  Respondent’s repeated reprehensible acts of employing chicanery and unbecoming conduct to conceal her web of lies, to the extent of milking complainant’s finances dry, and deceitfully arrogating upon herself the insurance proceeds that should rightfully belong to complainant, in the guise of rendering legitimate legal services, clearly transgressed the norms of honesty and integrity required in the practice of law.  This being so, respondent should be purged from the privilege of exercising the noble legal profession.  Marites Freeman v. Atty. Zenaida P. Reyes.  A.C. No. 6246. November 15, 2011.

Court personnel; grave misconduct and dishonesty.  Respondent admitted receiving pay-offs from Taguinod every time the City Star, the paper published by Taguinod, is awarded a judicial notice from Branch 21 of the RTC of Santiago City for publication.  Respondent’s defense that he “never demanded any money or any rebate” from Taguinod does not spare him from liability. Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 1079 not only prohibits local court personnel from “demanding” pay-offs, it also bars receipt of such pay-offs. By accepting pay-offs, respondent also violated Section 2(e), Canon III of the Code of Conduct, mandating that court personnel shall not “[s]olicit or accept any gift, loan, gratuity, discount, favor, hospitality or service under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the court personnel in performing official duties.”  These violations of respondent constitute grave misconduct or corrupt conduct in flagrant disregard of well-known legal rules.  Furthermore, by keeping the discounts or rebates for himself and thereby profiting from them, he had committed a clear case of dishonesty.  Francisco Taguinod v. Deputy Sheriff Rolando Tomas, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City.  A. M. No. P-09-2660.  November 29, 2011.

Court personnel; habitual tardiness.  Under Memorandum Circular No. 23, Series of 1998, “[a]n employee shall be 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 at least two (2) consecutive months during the year.”  It is clear from the facts that Calingasan has been habitually tardy. Consequently, as an employee of the judiciary, she failed to live up to the stringent standard of conduct demanded from everyone connected with the administration of justice.  The excuses offered by respondent – moral obligations, the performance of household chores, traffic problems, health conditions, and domestic and financial concerns – are not sufficient causes to excuse habitual tardiness.  Leave Division-OAS, Office of the Court Administrator v. Laraine I. Calingasan Stenographer II, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Sta Rosa, Laguna.  A.M. No. P-11-3010.  November 23, 2011.

Court personnel; inefficiency; time for completion and submission of TSN.  Respondent failed to strictly follow Administrative Circular No. 24-90 that prescribes a 20-day period from the time the notes are taken for the completion and submission of the transcript of stenographic notes.  Although the Court is solicitous of the plight of court stenographers, being saddled with heavy workload is not compelling reason enough to justify respondent’s failure to faithfully comply with the prescribed period provided in Administrative Circular No. 24-90 and, thus, she must be faulted. Otherwise, every government employee charged with inefficiency would resort to the same convenient excuse to evade punishment, to the great prejudice of public service. Concerned Citizen v. Maria Concepcion Divina, Court Stenographer, Regional Trial Court, Branch 3, Balanga City, Bataan.  A.M. No. P-07-2369.  November 16, 2011.

Court personnel; simple misconduct.  Simple misconduct has been defined as an unacceptable behavior that transgresses the established rules of conduct for public officers.  Respondent’s actions transgressed the norms of civility expected of judicial officers, even in their private lives, and constitute simple misconduct that must be squarely penalized. Although beso-beso or air kissing may be considered a standard greeting between family members, what respondent did was he not merely greeted his sister-in-law, but encroached into the territory of unwarranted advances that offended acceptable standards of decency. Regardless of whether it reached the level of criminal malice or lewdness, his conduct was unbecoming a court personnel, upon whom is placed the heavy burden of moral uprightness.  Beatriz B. Onate v. Severino G. Imatong, Junior Process Server, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Piat, Cagayan.  A.M. No. P-11-3009. November 16, 2011.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty.  Respondent, a security guard at the Court of Appeals compound in Manila, accidentally fired his service pistol while in the process of unloading it for turnover to the guard on duty for the next shift.  Respondent failed to show that his service pistol was not mechanically sound at that time.  In ruling out mechanical causes, it can only be concluded that the undesired discharge of respondent’s service pistol was the result of his own negligence; in the usual course of things, a firearm that is being unloaded should not discharge if gun safety procedures had been strictly followed.  However, we cannot consider the respondent’s negligence as gross in nature because there is nothing in the records to show that the respondent willfully and intentionally fired his service pistol. Also, at the time of the incident, the respondent did observe most of the safety measures required in unloading his firearm.  Court of Appeals by: COC Teresita Marigomen v. Enrique Manabat Jr., Security Guard I, Court of Appeals, Manila.  A.M. No. CA-11-24-P.  November 16, 2011.

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