April 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select April 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; falsification. Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, a lawyer may be removed or suspended on the following grounds: (1) deceit; (2) malpractice; (3) gross misconduct in office; (4) grossly immoral conduct; (5) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (6) violation of the lawyer’s oath; (7) willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court; and (8) corruptly or willfully appearing as a lawyer for a party to a case without authority so to do.

The crime of falsification of public document is contrary to justice, honesty, and good morals and, therefore, involves moral turpitude. Moral turpitude includes everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.  It involves an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman, or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.

Disbarment is the appropriate penalty for conviction by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude. Re: SC Decision date May 20, 2008 in G.R. No. 161455 under Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court vs. Atty. Rodolfo D. Pactolin. A.C. No. 7940, April 24, 2012.

Attorney; groundless imputation of bribery. As officers of the court, lawyers are duty-bound to observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and judicial officers. They are to abstain from offensive or menacing language or behavior before the court and must refrain from attributing to a judge motives that are not supported by the record or have no materiality to the case.

Atty. Peña cannot be excused for uttering snide and accusatory remarks at the expense of the reputation and integrity of members of this Court, and for using those unsubstantiated claims as basis for the subject Motion for Inhibition.

Not only has respondent Peña failed to show sincere remorse for his malicious insinuations of bribery and wrongdoing against Justice Carpio, he in fact continually availed of such unethical tactics in moving for the inhibition of eleven Justices of the Court. Indeed, his pattern of behavior can no longer be seen as isolated incidents that the Court can pardon given certain mitigating circumstances. Respondent Peña has blatantly and consistently cast unfounded aspersions against judicial officers in utter disregard of his duties and responsibilities to the Court.

Respondent Peña’s actions betray a similar disrespectful attitude towards the Court that cannot be countenanced especially for those privileged enough to practice law in the country. In re: Supreme Court Resolution dated 28 April 2003 in G.R. Nos. 145817 and 145822. A.C. No. 6332, April 17, 2012.

Attorney; lack of diligence. When a lawyer takes a client’s cause, he covenants that he will exercise due diligence in protecting the latter’s rights. Failure to exercise that degree of vigilance and attention expected of a good father of a family makes the lawyer unworthy of the trust reposed on him by his client and makes him answerable not just to his client but also to the legal profession, the courts and society. His workload does not justify neglect in handling one’s case because it is settled that a lawyer must only accept cases as much as he can efficiently handle. Suzette Del Mundo vs. Atty. Arnel C. Capistrano. A.C. No. 6903, April 16, 2012.

Attorney; obligation to hold in trust money of his client. A lawyer is obliged to hold in trust money of his client that may come to his possession. As trustee of such funds, he is bound to keep them separate and apart from his own. Money entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose such as for the filing and processing of a case if not utilized, must be returned immediately upon demand. Failure to return gives rise to a presumption that he has misappropriated it in violation of the trust reposed on him. And the conversion of funds entrusted to him constitutes gross violation of professional ethics and betrayal of public confidence in the legal profession. Suzette Del Mundo vs. Atty. Arnel C. Capistrano. A.C. No. 6903, April 16, 2012.

Attorney; representation of conflicting interests. “The proscription against representation of conflicting interests applies to a situation where the opposing parties are present clients in the same action or in an unrelated action.” The prohibition also applies even if the “lawyer would not be called upon to contend for one client that which the lawyer has to oppose for the other client, or that there would be no occasion to use the confidential information acquired from one to the disadvantage of the other as the two actions are wholly unrelated.” To be held accountable under this rule, it is “enough that the opposing parties in one case, one of whom would lose the suit, are present clients and the nature or conditions of the lawyer’s respective retainers with each of them would affect the performance of the duty of undivided fidelity to both clients.” Aniñon vs. Sabistsana. A.C. No. 5098, April 11, 2012.

Attorney; submission of falsified internal court documents. The falsification, subject of the instant administrative case, lies in the fact that respondent Peña submitted to the Court a document he was absolutely certain, at the time of such submission, was a copy of the Agenda of the then ponente.

Candor and truthfulness are some of the qualities exacted and expected from members of the legal profession. Thus, lawyers shall commit no falsehood, nor shall they mislead or allow the court to be misled by any artifice. As disciples of truth, their lofty vocation is to correctly inform the court of the law and the facts of the case and to aid it in doing justice and arriving at correct conclusions. Courts are entitled to expect only complete honesty from lawyers appearing and pleading before them. In the instant case, the submission of a document purporting to be a copy of the Agenda of a member of this Court is an act of dishonesty that puts into doubt the ability of respondent to uphold his duty as a disciple of truth.

Respondent led the Court to believe that what he submitted was a faithful reproduction of the ponente’s Agenda, just to support the subject Motion to Inhibit. The original of the purported copy was later found to have been inexistent in the court’s records.

The Court noted that respondent Peña has not explained, to the Court’s satisfaction, how he managed to obtain internal and confidential documents.

Respondent Peña is sanctioned for knowingly using confidential and internal court records and documents, which he suspiciously obtained in bolstering his case. His unbridled access to internal court documents has not been properly explained. The cavalier explanation of respondent Peña that this Court’s confidential documents would simply find themselves conveniently falling into respondent’s lap through registered mail and that the envelopes containing them could no longer be traced is unworthy of belief. This gives the Court reason to infer that laws and its own internal rules have been violated over and over again by some court personnel, whom respondent Peña now aids and abets by feigning ignorance of how the internal documents could have reached him. It is not unreasonable to even conclude that criminal liabilities have been incurred in relation to the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, with Atty. Peña benefitting from the same. Respondent’s actions clearly merit no other penalty than disbarment. In re: Supreme Court Resolution dated 28 April 2003 in G.R. Nos. 145817 and 145822. A.C. No. 6332, April 17, 2012.

Court personnel; conduct unbecoming of a court personnel. Respondent is liable for conduct unbecoming a court employee for his continued refusal to coordinate with complainants in the implementation of the writ of possession, despite numerous attempts on their part to get in touch with him. It may be recalled that complainants endeavored, no less than four (4) times, to communicate with respondent for the proper and expeditious execution of the writ, but each time, respondent rebuffed their efforts. Finally, on25 April 2011, the day respondent finally implemented the writ, respondent refused to allow Ms. De Jesus to inform complainants of the intended implementation and opted to be accompanied by an ordinary bank employee to witness the enforcement of the writ.

The persistent refusal of respondent to cooperate with complainants in the implementation of the writ runs afoul of the exacting standards required of those in the judiciary. Time and again, the Court has emphasized the heavy burden of responsibility which court officials and employees are mandated to perform. They are constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided. This is so because the image of the court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work there. The conduct of even minor employees mirrors the image of the courts they serve; thus, they are required to preserve the judiciary’s good name and standing as a true temple of justice. Attys. Gonzalez, et al. vs. Calo. A.M. No. P-12-3028, April 11, 2012.

Court personnel; disgraceful and immoral conduct. Immorality has been defined to include not only sexual matters but also “conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.” There is no doubt that engaging in sexual relations with a married man is not only a violation of the moral standards expected of employees of the judiciary, but is also a desecration of the sanctity of the institution of marriage which this Court abhors and is, thus, punishable. Evelyn J. Jailorina vs. Richelle Taneo-Regner, Demo II, RTC, OCC, San Mateo, Rizal. A.M. No. P-11-2948, April 23, 2012.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Falsification of daily time record constitutes dishonesty. Dishonesty is defined as the “disposition 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.” Section 52(A), Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (MC No. 19, dated September 14, 1999) classifies dishonesty as a grave offense punishable by dismissal even for first time offenses. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Araya. A.M. No. P-12-3053, April 11, 2012.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. The behavior of all employees and officials involved in the administration of justice, from judges to the most junior clerks, is circumscribed with a heavy responsibility. Their conduct must be guided by strict propriety and decorum at all times in order to merit and maintain the public’s respect for and trust in the judiciary. Needless to say, all court personnel must conduct themselves in a manner exemplifying integrity, honesty and uprightness.

Respondent’s shouting at complainant within the court premises, reporting complainant to the police after she was reprimanded for her solicitation, and refusing to talk with complainant judge are not only acts of discourtesy and disrespect but likewise an unethical conduct sanctioned by Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

High-strung and belligerent behavior has no place in government service where the personnel are enjoined to act with self-restraint and civility at all times even when confronted with rudeness and insolence. Such conduct is exacted from them so that they will earn and keep the public’s respect for and confidence in the judicial service. This standard is applied with respect to a court employee’s dealings not only with the public but also with his or her co-workers in the service. Conduct violative of this standard quickly and surely erodes respect for the courts

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer; and the misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, such as willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules. Thus, considering respondent’s transgressions, i.e., disrespectful conduct, solicitation, and influence peddling of bail bonds, there is no question that respondent is guilty of grave misconduct. Judge Salvador R. Santos, Jr. vs. Editha R. Mangahas. A.M. No. P-09-2720, April 17, 2012.

Court personnel; habitual tardiness. Under Sec. 52 (C) (4), Rule VI of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999, habitual tardiness is penalized as follows: First offense Reprimand; Second offense Suspension for 1-30 days; Third offense Dismissal from the service. Since it was proven that the present case is the second offense of Gareza for being habitually tardy, the OCA correctly recommended for the penalty of suspension for 30 days with warning that a similar offense in the future would be meted a more severe penalty. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Sheriff Gareza. A.M. No. P-12-3058, April 25, 2012.

Court personnel; official and personal conduct. Respondent took more than six years to pay their obligation to the complainant. Also, one of the land titles that respondents gave as collateral turned out to have been encumbered. While they have already paid their obligation, such payment was conditioned upon the complainant’s execution of an Affidavit of Desistance.

All these facts constitute conduct that reflects badly on the judiciary, diminishing the honor and integrity of the offices they hold. This is especially true because respondents were admittedly given the loans because they were considered prominent persons in the community; and that they were considered as such, presumably because they worked in the judiciary.

In Villaseñor v. De Leon, the Court emphasized that “to preserve decency within the judiciary, court personnel must comply with just contractual obligations, act fairly and adhere to high ethical standards”. In that case, the Court said that respondent was “expected to be a paragon of uprightness, fairness and honesty not only in all her official conduct but also in her personal actuations, including business and commercial transactions, so as to avoid becoming her court’s albatross of infamy.” Re: Complaint filed by Paz De Vera Lazaro against Edna Magallanes and Bonifacio Magallanes. A.M. No. P-11-3003, April 25, 2012.

Court personnel; neglect of duty. Settled is the role of clerks of court as judicial officers entrusted with the delicate function with regard to collection of legal fees. They are expected to correctly and effectively implement regulations relating to proper administration of court funds. Delay in the remittance of collection constitutes neglect of duty. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Nini. A.M. No. P-11-3002, April 11, 2012.

Court personnel; neglect of duty. The following are the duties of a sheriff:  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  thirty (30) days thereafter until it is satisfied in full or until its effectivity expires.

Respondent was clearly remiss in the performance of his mandated duties: he unilaterally gave the occupants 3 months, instead of the three (3) days provided by the Rules, to vacate the property; when he did evict the occupants from the premises, a room containing their personal effects was padlocked, therefore delaying the demolition of the improvements introduced on the property; finally, respondent failed to make a return on the writ of possession after he implemented the same. Attys. Gonzalez, et al. vs. Calo. A.M. No. P-12-3028, April 11, 2012.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty. Simple neglect of duty is the failure to give attention to a task, or the disregard of a duty due to carelessness or indifference. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Sarmiento, et al. A.M. No. P-11-2912, April 10, 2012.

Court personnel; unauthorized absences. Under the Civil Service rules, an employee should submit in advance, whenever possible, an application for a vacation leave of absence for action by the proper chief of agency prior to the effective date of the leave. It is clear from the facts that Dacsig had failed to acquire the necessary leave permits. He offers no excuse or explanation for failing to obtain the necessary authorization for his leaves. Thus, he is guilty of taking unauthorized absences. Rule IV, Section 52 (A) (17) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, provides that the penalty for frequent unauthorized absences of a first offender is suspension for six months and one day to one year. Judge Andrew P. Dulnuan vs. Esteban D. Dacsig, Clerk of Court II, MCTC, Magddela-Nagtipunan, Quirinio. A.M. No. P-11-3004, April 18, 2012.

Judge; gross ignorance. Civil Case No. 632, a case for ejectment, is covered by the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure. It is equally undisputed that in summary procedure, a preliminary conference should be held not later than 30 days after the last answer has been filed. Considering that no preliminary conference at all was held in Civil Case No. 632, Judge Literato evidently failed to comply with a basic rule of procedure for which he should accordingly be held accountable. Judge Literato’s inaction in Civil Case No. 632 for 322 days constitutes utter disregard for the summary nature of an ejectment case.

Competence is a mark of a good judge. When a judge displays an utter lack of familiarity with the rules, he erodes the public’s confidence in the competence of our courts. It is highly imperative that judges be conversant with the law and basic legal principles. Basic legal procedures must be at the palm of a judge’s hands. In sum, Judge Literato is administratively guilty of gross ignorance of the Rule on Summary Procedure and undue delay in rendering a decision. Dr. Ramie G. Hipe vs. Judge Rolando T. Literato, Municipal Trial Court, Mainit, Surigao Del Norte. A.M. No. MTJ-11-1781, April 25, 2012.

Judge; gross misconduct. In Guerrero vs. Judge Deray, the Court held that a judge “who deliberately and continuously fails and refuses to comply with the resolution of [the Supreme] Court is guilty of gross misconduct and insubordination.”

In the present case, the Court found that Judge Go failed to heed the Court’s pronouncements. He did not file the required comment to the Court’s show-cause resolutions despite several opportunities granted him. His willful disobedience and disregard to the show-cause resolutions constitutes grave and serious misconduct affecting his fitness and worthiness of the honor and integrity attached to his office. It is noteworthy that Judge Go was afforded several opportunities to explain his failure to decide the subject cases long pending before his court and to comply with the directives of this Court, but he has failed, and continuously refuses to heed the same. This continued refusal to abide by lawful directives issued by this Court is glaring proof that he has become disinterested to remain with the judicial system to which he purports to belong. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Judge Go, et al. A.M. No. MTJ-07-1667, April 10, 2012.

Judge; gross misconduct and dishonesty. In this case, Judge Indar issued decisions on numerous annulment of marriage cases which do not exist in the records of RTC-Shariff Aguak, Branch 15 or the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, Cotabato City. There is nothing to show that (1) proceedings were had on the questioned cases; (2) docket fees had been paid; (3) the parties were notified of a scheduled hearing as calendared; (4) hearings had been conducted; or (5) the cases were submitted for decision. Judge Indar, who had sworn to faithfully uphold the law, issued decisions on the questioned annulment of marriage cases, without any showing that such cases underwent trial and complied with the statutory and jurisprudential requisites for voiding marriages. Such act undoubtedly constitutes gross misconduct.

Among the questioned annulment decrees is Judge Indar’s Decision dated 23 May 2007, in Spec. Proc. No. 06-581, entitled “Chona Chanco Aguiling v. Alan V. Aguiling.” Despite the fact that no proceedings were conducted in the case, Judge Indar declared categorically, in response to the Australian Embassy letter, that the Decision annulling the marriage is valid and that petitioner is free to marry. In effect, Judge Indar confirms the truthfulness of the contents of the annulment decree, highlighting Judge Indar’s appalling dishonesty. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Judge Indar. A.M. No. RTJ-10-2232, April 10, 2012.

Judge; performing or agreeing to perform functions or services outside of their official functions. Judge Molato is to be reprimanded for agreeing to serve as one of Lucky Corporation’s alternate bank signatories even if he may not have performed such service for the corporation.  He has no business agreeing to the performance of such service.  His offense constitutes a violation of Administrative Circular 5 which in essence prohibits public officials from performing or agreeing to perform functions or services outside of their official functions for the reason that the entire time of the officials and employees of the judiciary shall be devoted to their official work to ensure the efficient and speedy administration of justice. Ramoncito and Juliana Luarca vs. Judge Ireneo B. Molato, MTC, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro/ Jeny Agbay vs. Judge Ireneo B. Molato, MTC, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro. A.M. No. MTJ-08-1711/A.M. No. MTJ-08-1716, April 23, 2012.

Notary public; duty to ascertain the identities of the parties executing the document. A notary public is empowered to perform a variety of notarial acts, most common of which are the acknowledgement and affirmation of documents or instruments.  In the performance of these notarial acts, the notary public must be mindful of the significance of the notarial seal affixed on documents.  The notarial seal converts a document from a private to a public instrument, after which it may be presented as evidence without need for proof of its genuineness and due execution.  Thus, notarization should not be treated as an empty, meaningless or routinary act.

A notary public’s function should not be trivialized and a notary public must discharge his powers and duties which are impressed with public interest, with accuracy and fidelity. A notary public exercises duties calling for carefulness and faithfulness.  Notaries must inform themselves of the facts they certify to; most importantly, they should not take part or allow themselves to be part of illegal transactions.

The Court cautioned all notaries public to be very careful and diligent in ascertaining the true identities of the parties executing the document before them, especially when it involves disposition of a property, as this Court will deal with such cases more severely in the future. Maria vs. Cortez. A.C. No. 7880, April 11, 2012.