January 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected January 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; accounting of funds. When a lawyer collects or receives money from his client for a particular purpose, he should promptly account to the client how the money was spent. If he does not use the money for its intended purpose, he must immediately return it to the client. His failure either to render an accounting or to return the money (if the intended purpose of the money does not materialize) constitutes a blatant disregard of Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  Moreover, a lawyer has the duty to deliver his client’s funds or properties as they fall due or upon demand. His failure to return the client’s money upon demand gives rise to the presumption that he has misappropriated it for his own use to the prejudice of and in violation of the trust reposed in him by the client. The issuance of checks which were later dishonored for having been drawn against a closed account indicates a lawyer’s unfitness for the trust and confidence reposed on him, shows lack of personal honesty and good moral character as to render him unworthy of public confidence, and constitutes a ground for disciplinary action.  Hector Trenas vs. People of the Philippines. G.R. No. 195002. January 25, 2012.

Attorney; mistake of counsel. The general rule is that the mistake of a counsel binds the client, and it is only in instances wherein the negligence is so gross or palpable that courts must step in to grant relief to the aggrieved client. It can be gleaned from the circumstances that petitioner was given opportunities to defend his case and was granted concomitant reliefs by the court. Thus, it cannot be said that the mistake and negligence of his former counsel were so gross and palpable to have deprived him of due process. Cresencio C. Milla vs. People of the Philippines and Carlo V. Lopez. G.R. No. 188726. January 25, 2012.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Every employee of the Judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.  Like any public servant, she must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of her official duties but in her personal and private dealings with other people, to preserve the court’s good name and standing.  The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel.  Court personnel have been enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice. Under Section 52(A)(1) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dishonesty is a grave offense punishable by dismissal for the first offense. Under Section 58 of the same rules, dismissal carries with it cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the government service. Thus, the respondent is dismissed for dishonesty when she made someone take the Civil Service Sub-professional Examination on her behalf. Concerned Citizen vs. Domingo Nawen Abad, etc. A.M. No. P-11-2907. January 31, 2012.

Court personnel; grave abuse of authority. By the very nature of his duties, a sheriff performs a very sensitive function in the dispensation of justice.  He is duty-bound to know the basic rules 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. Administrative Circular No. 12 was promulgated in order to streamline the service and execution of court writs and processes in courts and to better serve the public good and facilitate the administration of justice.  Paragraph 2 of Administrative Circular No. 12 provides that “All Clerks of Court of the Metropolitan Trial Court and Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, and/or their deputy sheriffs shall serve all court processes and execute all writs of their respective courts within their territorial jurisdiction.” Furthermore, paragraph 5 of the same circular provides that “No sheriff or deputy sheriff shall execute a court writ outside his territorial jurisdiction without first notifying in writing, and seeking the assistance of, the sheriff of the place where the execution shall take place.” It is clear that respondent’s act of implementing the subject writs in San Fernando City, when his territorial jurisdiction is confined only to Angeles City, is a violation of the Circular and tantamount to abuse of authority.  While respondent claimed that he personally informed the OCC of San Fernando City, he, however, failed to prove that he made written notice as required by Administrative Circular No. 12.  A mere submission of the copies of the court processes to the OCC will not suffice as to the written notice requirement.  The requirement of notice is based on the rudiments of justice and fair play.  It frowns upon arbitrariness and oppressive conduct in the execution of an otherwise legitimate act. Luis P. Pineda vs. Neil T. torres, sheriff II, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 2, Angeles City. A.M. No. P-12-3027. January 30, 2012

Court personnel; gross neglect of duty. A clerk of court performs a very delicate function as the custodian of the funds and revenues, records, property, and premises of the court. He is liable for any loss, shortage, destruction, or impairment of said funds and property. Even the undue delay in the remittance of amounts collected by them at the very least constitutes misfeasance. The safekeeping of funds and collections is essential to the goal of an orderly administration of justice and no protestation of good faith can override the mandatory nature of the Circulars designed to promote full accountability for government funds. Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92 mandates that all fiduciary collections shall be deposited immediately by the Clerk of Court concerned, upon receipt thereof, with an authorized government depository bank which is the Land Bank of the Philippines. The respondents’ failure to remit their collection constitutes gross neglect of duty, dishonesty, and grave misconduct. Moreover, the failure of a public officer to remit funds upon demand by an authorized officer shall be prima facie evidence that the public officer has put such missing funds or property to personal use. Re: Report on Financial Audit Conducted at MCTC, Santiago-San Esteban, Ilocos Sur.  A.M. No. P-11-2950. January 17, 2012

Judges; administrative liability. Disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions brought against any judge in relation to the performance of his official functions are neither complementary to nor suppletory of appropriate judicial remedies, nor a substitute for such remedies. Any party who may feel aggrieved should resort to these remedies, and exhaust them, instead of resorting to disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions. A judge’s failure to correctly interpret the law or to properly appreciate the evidence presented does not necessarily incur administrative liability, for to hold him administratively accountable for every erroneous ruling or decision he renders, assuming he has erred, will be nothing short of harassment and will make his position doubly unbearable. His judicial office will then be rendered untenable, because no one called upon to try the facts or to interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment. Administrative sanction and criminal liability should be imposed only when the error is so gross, deliberate and malicious, or is committed with evident bad faith, or only in clear cases of violations by him of the standards and norms of propriety and good behavior prescribed by law and the rules of procedure, or fixed and defined by pertinent jurisprudence. Re: Verified complaint of Engr. Oscar L. Ongjoco, Chairman of the Board/CEO etc. against Hon. Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr., et al. A.M. No. 11-184-CA-J. January 31, 2012.

Judges; court personnel; gross misconduct; neglect of duty. Respondent Judge failed to exert due diligence required of him to ascertain the facts of the case before he came out with the Order. He should be reminded of his personal responsibility in the making of his decisions and orders.  He should not rely on anybody else for the examination and study of the records to properly ascertain the facts of each case that he handles.  He cannot simply pass the blame on his staff and hide behind the incompetence of his subordinates.  Moreover, respondent Judge should have been more cautious since the case involved was an old inherited case with voluminous records and what was sought to be executed was an order issued almost twenty (20) years ago. It is incumbent upon him to devise an efficient court management system since he is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his functions. Although judges cannot be held to account for erroneous judgments rendered in good faith, good faith in situations of infallible discretion inheres only within the parameters of tolerable judgment and does not apply where the issues are so simple and the applicable legal principle evident and basic as to be beyond permissible margins of error.

The records and pleadings filed have established the administrative liability of the clerk of court.  First, respondent Clerk of Court failed to inform respondent Judge of the existence of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court decisions. Second, he failed to inform and send the parties their respective notices and court orders.  Third, he issued the Certificate of Finality without verifying if indeed a motion for reconsideration was filed in connection with the case. As custodian of judicial records, it is incumbent upon the clerk of court to ensure an orderly and efficient court management system, and to supervise the personnel under his office to function effectively. They must be assiduous in performing official duty and in supervising and managing court dockets and records. It is also incumbent upon him to see to it that court orders were sent with dispatch to the parties concerned. Thus, respondent Clerk of Court should ensure an orderly and efficient record management system to assist all personnel, including respondent Judge, in the performance of their respective duties. Espina and Madarang Company, et al. vs. Judge Cader P. Indar, Al Haj and Abie M. Amilil, Officer-in-charge, branch Clerk of Court, both of theRegional Trial Court, Br. 14, Cotabato City. A.M. No. RTJ-07-2069. December 14, 2011.

(Mon thanks Leanne Herscel Que for her help in the preparation of this post.)