August 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney; failure to account for money.  The Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

Canon 16-A lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession.

Rule 16.01-A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client.

Rule 16.02-A lawyer shall keep the funds of each client separate and apart from his own and those of others kept by him.

Rule 16.03-A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand.

Money entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose but not used for the purpose, should be immediately returned. A lawyer’s failure to return upon demand the funds held by him on behalf of his client gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use in violation of the trust reposed in him by his client. Such act is a gross violation of general morality as well as of professional ethics. It impairs public confidence in the legal profession and deserves punishment. Emilia O. Dhaliwal vs. Atty. Abelardo B. Dumaguing. A.C. No. 9390, August 1, 2012.

Attorney; grave misconduct and dishonesty. The purpose of disbarment is to protect the courts and the public from the misconduct of the officers of the court and to ensure the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this important function shall be competent, honorable and trustworthy men in whom courts and clients may repose confidence.  The Court cited the case of In Re: Sotto and ruled that “One of the qualifications required of a candidate for admission to the bar is the possession of good moral character, and, when one who has already been admitted to the bar clearly shows, by a series of acts, that he does not follow such moral principles as should govern the conduct of an upright person, and that, in his dealings with his clients and with the courts, he disregards the rule of professional ethics required to be observed by every attorney, it is the duty of the court, as guardian of the interests of society, as well as of the preservation of the ideal standard of professional conduct, to make use of its powers to deprive him of his professional attributes which he so unworthily abused.

Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility states that “a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.” The Code exacts from lawyers not only a firm respect for law, legal processes but also mandates the utmost degree of fidelity and good faith in dealing with clients and the moneys entrusted to them pursuant to their fiduciary relationship.

Pursuant to Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, respondent may either be disbarred or suspended for committing deceitful and dishonest acts. This rule provides that in any of the following circumstances, to wit: (1) deceit; (2) malpractice; (3) gross misconduct; (4) grossly immoral conduct;(5) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (6) violation of the lawyer’s oath; (7) wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court; or (8) corruptly or wilfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so; the Court is vested with the authority and discretion to impose either the extreme penalty of disbarment or mere suspension. Grace M. Anacta vs. Atty. Eduardo D. Resurrecction. A.C. No. 9074, August 14, 2012.

Attorney; immorality. The practice of law is considered a privilege bestowed by the State on those who show that they possess and continue to possess the legal qualifications for the profession. As such, lawyers are expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency, morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing, and must perform their four-fold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance with the values and norms embodied in the Code. Lawyers may, thus, be disciplined for any conduct that is wanting of the above standards whether in their professional or in their private capacity.

The settled rule is that betrayal of the marital vow of fidelity or sexual relations outside marriage is considered disgraceful and immoral as it manifests deliberate disregard of the sanctity of marriage and the marital vows protected by the Constitution and affirmed by our laws. Respondent violated the Lawyer’s Oath14 and Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code which proscribes a lawyer from engaging in “unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.” Engr.Gilbert Tumbokon vs. Atty. Mariano R. Pefianco. A.C. No. 6116, August 1, 2012

Attorney; representing conflicting interest. Canon 15, Rule 15.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that a lawyer cannot represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.

An attorney owes his client undivided allegiance. Because of the highly fiduciary nature of their relationship, sound public policy dictates that he be prohibited from representing conflicting interests or discharging inconsistent duties. An attorney may not, without being guilty of professional misconduct, act as counsel for a person whose interest conflicts with that of his present or former client. This rule is so absolute that good faith and honest intention on the erring lawyer’s part does not make it inoperative. The reason for this is that a lawyer acquires knowledge of his former client’s doings, whether documented or not, that he would ordinarily not have acquired were it not for the trust and confidence that his client placed on him in the light of their relationship. It would simply be impossible for the lawyer to identify and erase such entrusted knowledge with faultless precision or lock the same into an iron box when suing the former client on behalf of a new one. Santos Ventura Hocorma Foundation, Inc., represented by Gabriel H. Abad vs. Atty. Richard V. Funk. A.C. No. 9094, August 15, 2012

Attorney; sharing of fees with non- lawyers.  Respondent’s defense that forgery had attended the execution of the August 11, 1995 letter was belied by his July 16, 1997 letter admitting to have undertaken the payment of complainant’s commission but passing on the responsibility to Sps. Yap. Clearly, respondent has violated Rule 9.02, Canon 9 of the Code which prohibits a lawyer from dividing or stipulating to divide a fee for legal services with persons not licensed to practice law, except in certain cases which do not obtain in the case at bar. Engr. Gilbert Tumbokon vs. Atty. Mariano R. Pefianco. A.C. No. 6116, August 1, 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. Respondent engaged in sexual relations with a married man which not only violate the moral standards expected of employees of the Judiciary but is also a desecration of the sanctity of the institution of marriage.

The Code of Judicial Ethics mandates that the conduct of court personnel must be free from any whiff of impropriety, not only with respect to his duties in the judicial branch but also to his behavior outside the court as a private individual.  There is no dichotomy of morality; a court employee is also judged by his private morals.  The exacting standards of morality and decency have been strictly adhered to and laid down by the Court to those in the service of the Judiciary.  Respondent, as a court stenographer, did not live up to her commitment to lead a moral life.

Public office is a public trust.  The good  of the  service  and  the  degree  of morality,  which  every  official  and  employee  in  the  public service must observe,  if respect  and  confidence  are to  be maintained by the Government in  the  enforcement  of the  law,  demand that no  untoward  conduct  affecting morality, integrity, and efficiency while holding office should be left without proper and  commensurate  sanction,  all  attendant  circumstances  taken  into account. Judge Armando S. Adlawan, Presiding Judge, 6th MCTC, Bonifacio-Don Mariano Marcos, Misamis Occidental vs. Estrella P. Capilitan, 6th MCTC, Bonifacio-Don Mariano Marcos, Misamis Occidental. A.M. No. P-12-3080. August 29, 2012

Court personnel; dishonesty and falsification of public document.   Willful concealment of facts in the Personal Data Sheet (PDS)  constitutes mental dishonesty amounting to misconduct. Likewise, making a false statement in one’s PDS amounts to dishonesty and falsification of an official document.  Dishonesty has been defined as intentionally making a false statement on any material fact. Dishonesty evinces a 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.

Civil service rules mandate the accomplishment of the PDS as a requirement for employment in the government. Hence, making false statements in one’s PDS is ultimately connected with one’s employment in the government. The employee making false statements in his or her PDS becomes liable for falsification. Moreover, for respondent to be meted the penalty of dismissal, her dishonesty need not be committed in the performance of official duty.

As the Court has previously ruled: “The rationale for the rule is that if a government officer or employee is dishonest or is guilty of oppression or grave misconduct, even if said defects of character are not connected with his office, they affect his right to continue in office. The Government cannot tolerate in its service a dishonest official, even if he performs his duties correctly and well, because by reason of his government position, he is given more and ample opportunity to commit acts of dishonesty against his fellow men, even against offices and entities of the government other than the office where he is employed; and by reason of his office, he enjoys and possesses a certain influence and power which renders the victims of his grave misconduct, oppression and dishonesty less disposed and prepared to resist and to counteract his evil acts and actuations.
When official documents are falsified, intent to injure a third person is irrelevant because the principal thing punished is the violation of public faith and the destruction of the truth as claimed in that document.The act undermines the integrity of government records and therein lies the prejudice to public service. The act need not result in disruption of service or loss to the government. It is the act of dishonesty itself that taints the integrity of government service. A government officer’s dishonesty affects the morale of the service, even when it stems from the employee’s personal dealings. Such conduct should not be tolerated from government officials, even when official duties are performed well.

Employment in the judiciary demands the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency from its personnel. All judiciary employees are expected to conduct themselves with propriety and decorum at all times.  An act that falls short of the exacting standards set for public officers, especially those in the judiciary, shall not be countenanced. Manolito C. Villordon vs. Marilyn C. Avila, Court Interpreter I, Municipal Trial Court in Cities. Branch 3, Cebu City. A.M. No. P-10-2809, August 10, 2012

Court personnel; neglect of duty. Simple neglect of duty is defined as the failure to give attention to a task or the disregard of a duty due to carelessness or indifference. The Court ruled in Pilipina v. Roxas: “The Court cannot countenance neglect of duty for even simple neglect of duty lessens the people’s confidence in the judiciary and ultimately in the administration of justice. By the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, public servants must faithfully adhere to, hold sacred and render inviolate the constitutional principle that a public office is a public trust; that all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. Memoranda of Judge Eliza B. Yu issued to Legal Researcher Marie Joy P. Lagman and to Court Stenographer Soledad J. Bassig, all of Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 47, Pasay City. A.M. No. P-12-3033, August 15, 2012.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty. Rule 39, Section 14 of the Rules of Court clearly mandates the sheriff or other proper officer to file a return and when necessary, periodic reports, with the court which issued the writ of execution. The writ of execution shall be returned to the court immediately after the judgment had been partially or fully satisfied. In case the writ is still unsatisfied or only partially satisfied 30 days after the officer’s receipt of the same, said officer shall file a report with the court stating the reasons therefor. Subsequently, the officer shall periodically file with the court a report on the proceedings taken to enforce the writ every 30 days until said writ is fully satisfied or its effectivity expires. The officer is further required to furnish the parties with copies of the return and periodic reports.

Difficulties or obstacles in the satisfaction of a final judgment and execution of a writ do not excuse respondent’s total inaction. Neither the Rules nor jurisprudence recognizes any exception from the periodic filing of reports by sheriffs It is almost trite to say that execution is the fruit and end of the suit and is the life of law. A judgment, if left unexecuted, would be nothing but an empty victory for the prevailing party. Therefore, sheriffs ought to know that they have a sworn responsibility to serve writs of execution with utmost dispatch. When writs are placed in their hands, it is their ministerial duty to proceed with reasonable celerity and promptness to execute them in accordance with their mandate. Unless restrained by a court order, they should see to it that the execution of judgments is not unduly delayed. Accordingly, they must comply with their mandated ministerial duty as speedily as possible. As agents of the law, high standards are expected of sheriffs

Canon IV, Section 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel that reads, “Court personnel shall at all times perform official duties properly and with diligence.”  Astorga and Repol Law Offices, represented by Atty. Arnold B. Lugares vs. Leodel N. Roxas, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 66, Makati City. A.M. No. P-12-3029, August 15, 2012.

Attorney; representation of non-client. Atty. Espejo’s claim that he drafted and signed the pleading just to extend assistance to Rodica deserves scant consideration. It is true that under Rules 2.01and 2.02, Canon 2 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer shall not reject, except for valid reasons, the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed, and in such cases, even if he does not accept a case, shall not refuse to render legal advise to the person concerned if only to the extent necessary to safeguard the latter’s right. However, in this case, Rodica cannot be considered as defenseless or oppressed considering that she is properly represented by counsel in the RTC case. Needless to state, her rights are amply safeguarded. It would have been different had Rodica not been represented by any lawyer, which, however, is not the case.

The Court wonders why Atty. Espejo, knowing fully well that Rodica is not their law firm’s client and without the knowledge and consent of his

superiors, gave in to Rodica’s request for him to indicate in the said motion the names of his law firm, Atty. Manuel and Atty. Michelle for the purpose of “giving more weight and credit to the pleading.” As a member of the bar, Atty. Espejo ought to know that motions and pleadings filed in courts are acted upon in accordance with their merit or lack of it, and not on the reputation of the law firm or the lawyer filing the same. More importantly, he should have thought that in so doing, he was actually assisting Rodica in misrepresenting before the RTC that she was being represented by the said law firm and lawyers, when in truth she was not.

It is well to remind Atty. Espejo that before being a friend to Rodica, he is first and foremost an officer of the court. Hence, he is expected to maintain a high standard of honesty and fair dealings and must conduct himself beyond reproach at all times. He must likewise ensure that he acts within the bounds of reason and common sense, always aware that he is an instrument of truth and justice.  Jasper Junno F. Rodica vs. Atty. Manuel M. Lazaro, et al. A.C. No. 9259, August 23, 2012

(Mon thanks Jennifer Go for assisting in the preparation of this post.)