January 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select January 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; forum shopping as contempt of court. A disbarment complaint against Atty. Gonzales was filed for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility for the forum shopping he allegedly committed. The court held that the respondent was guilty of forum shopping. Lawyers should be reminded that their primary duty is to assist the courts in the administration of justice. Any conduct that tends to delay, impede or obstruct the administration of justice contravenes this obligation. The Court has repeatedly warned lawyers against resorting to forum shopping since the practice clogs the Court dockets and can lead to conflicting rulings. Willful and deliberate forum shopping has been made punishable either as direct or indirect contempt of court. In engaging in forum shopping, Atty. Gonzales violated Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which directs lawyers to obey the laws of the land and promote respect for the law and legal processes. He also disregarded his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice, and the prohibition against unduly delaying a case by misusing court processes. Thus, the court subjected Atty. Gonzales to censure. Anastacio N. Teodoro III vs. Atty. Romeo S. Gonzales. A.C. No. 6760. January 30, 2013

Attorney; neglect. Complainant filed a disbarment complaint against Atty. Gacott who allegedly deceived the complainant and her husband into signing a “preparatory” Deed of Sale that respondent converted into a Deed of Absolute Sale in favor of his relatives.

The respondent is reminded that his duty under Canon 16 is to “hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession.” Allowing a party to take the original TCTs of properties owned by another – an act that could result in damage – should merit a finding of legal malpractice. While it was his legal staff who allowed the complainant to borrow the TCTs and it does not appear that the respondent was aware or present when the complainant borrowed the TCTs, the court still held the respondent liable, as the TCTs were entrusted to his care and custody; he failed to exercise due diligence in caring for his client’s properties that were in his custody.

Moreover, Canon 18, Rule 18.03 requires that a lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable. What amounts to carelessness or negligence in a lawyer’s discharge of his duty to his client is incapable of an exact formulation, but the Court has consistently held that the mere failure of a lawyer to perform the obligations due his client is per se a violation. In Canoy v. Ortiz, the court held that a lawyer’s failure to file a position paper was per se a violation of Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Similar to Canoy, the respondent clearly failed in his duty to his client when, without any explanation, he failed to file the Motion for Leave to Intervene on behalf of the spouses Ylaya. Fe A. Ylaya vs. Atty. Glenn Carlos Gacott. A.C. No. 6475. January 30, 2013

Attorney; lack of diligence. Complainant filed a case for disbarment against Atty. Cefra for violating Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rules 138 and139 of the Rules of Court. The court held that Atty. Cefra was guilty of negligence in handling the complainants’ case. His acts in the present administrative case also reveal his lack of diligence in performing his duties as an officer of the Court. The Code of Professional Responsibility mandates that “a lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence.” It further states that “a lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.” In addition, a lawyer has the duty to “keep the client informed of the status of his case.” Atty. Cefra failed to live up to these standards as shown by the following: (1) Atty. Cefra failed to submit a formal offer of documentary evidence within the period given by the RTC; (2) He failed to comply with the two orders of the RTC directing him to submit a formal offer of documentary evidence; (3) Atty. Cefra failed to file an appropriate motion or appeal, or avail of any remedial measure to contest the RTC’s decision; (4) He failed to file an appropriate motion or appeal, or avail of any remedial measure to contest the RTC’s decision which was adverse to complainants.

Thus, the above acts showing Atty. Cefra’s lack of diligence and inattention to his duties as a lawyer warrant disciplinary sanction. The court has repeatedly held that “[t]he practice of law is a privilege bestowed by the State on those who show that they possess the legal qualifications for it. Lawyers are expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency and morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing. They must perform their fourfold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance with the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.” Sps. Arcing and Cresing Bautista, et al. vs. Atty. Arturo Cefra A.C. No. 5530. January 28, 2013.

Attorney; reinstatement in the Roll of Attorneys; guidelines in resolving requests for judicial clemency; good moral character requirement. In Re: Letter of Judge Augustus C. Diaz, Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 37, Appealing for Clemency, the Court laid down the following guidelines in resolving requests for judicial clemency, to wit:

(a) There must be proof of remorse and reformation. These shall include but should not be limited to certifications or testimonials of the officer(s) or chapter(s) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, judges or judges associations and prominent members of the community with proven integrity and probity. A subsequent finding of guilt in an administrative case for the same or similar misconduct will give rise to a strong presumption of non-reformation.

(b) Sufficient time must have lapsed from the imposition of the penalty to ensure a period of reform.

(c) The age of the person asking for clemency must show that he still has productive years ahead of him that can be put to good use by giving him a chance to redeem himself.

(d) There must be a showing of promise (such as intellectual aptitude, learning or legal acumen or contribution to legal scholarship and the development of the legal system or administrative and other relevant skills), as well as potential for public service.

(e) There must be other relevant factors and circumstances that may justify clemency.

Moreover, to be reinstated to the practice of law, the applicant must, like any other candidate for admission to the bar, satisfy the Court that he is a person of good moral character.

In a previous Decision, the Court disbarred respondent from the practice of law for having contracted a bigamous marriage with complainant Teves and a third marriage with one Constantino while his first marriage to Esparza was still subsisting. These acts, according to the court, constituted gross immoral conduct.

In this case, the court held that Respondent has sufficiently shown his remorse and acknowledged his indiscretion in the legal profession and in his personal life. He has asked forgiveness from his children by complainant Teves and maintained a cordial relationship with them as shown by the herein attached pictures. After his disbarment, respondent returned to his hometown in Enrile, Cagayan and devoted his time tending an orchard and taking care of his ailing mother until her death in 2008. In 2009, he was appointed as Private Secretary to the Mayor of Enrile, Cagayan and thereafter, assumed the position of Local Assessment Operations Officer II/Office-In-Charge in the Assessor’s Office, which office he continues to serve to date. Moreover, he is a part-time instructor at the University of Cagayan Valley and F.L. Vargas College during the School Year 2011-2012. Respondent likewise took an active part in socio-civic activities by helping his neighbors and friends who are in dire need.

Certain documents also attest to Respondent’s reformed ways such as: (1) Affidavit of Candida P. Mabborang; (2) Affidavit of Reymar P. Ramirez; (3) Affidavit of Roberto D. Tallud; (4) Certification from the Municipal Local Government Office.

Furthermore, respondent’s plea for reinstatement is duly supported by the IBP- Cagayan Chapter and by his former and present colleagues. His parish priest certified that he is faithful to and puts to actual practice the doctrines of the Catholic Church. He is also observed to be a regular churchgoer. Respondent has already settled his previous marital squabbles, as in fact, no opposition to the instant suit was tendered by complainant Teves. He sends regular support to his children in compliance with the Decision dated February 27, 2004.

The Court notes the eight (8) long years that had elapsed from the time respondent was disbarred and recognizes his achievement as the first lawyer product of Lemu National High School, and his fourteen (14) years of dedicated government service from 1986 to July 2000 as Legal Officer of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports; Supervising Civil Service Attorney of the Civil Service Commission; Ombudsman Graft Investigation Officer; and  State  Prosecutor  of the  Department  of Justice. From the attestations and certifications presented, the Court finds that respondent has sufficiently atoned for his transgressions. At 58 years of age, he still has productive years ahead of him that could significantly contribute to the upliftment of the law profession and the betterment of society. While the Court is ever mindful of its duty to discipline and even remove its errant officers, concomitant to it is its duty to show compassion to those who have reformed their ways as in this case.

Thus, the court reinstated respondent to the practice of law. He was, however, reminded that such privilege is burdened with conditions whereby adherence to the rigid standards of intellect, moral uprightness, and strict compliance with the rules and the law are continuing requirements. Florence Teves Macarubbo vs. Atty. Edmundo L. Macarubbo; Re: Petition (for Extraordinary Mercy) of Edmundo L. Macarubbo. A.C. No. 6148. January 22, 2013

Court personnel; refusal to perform duty. Section 1, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel enjoins court personnel to perform their official duties properly and with diligence at all times. Clerks of Court are primarily responsible for the speedy and efficient service of all court processes and writs. Hence, they cannot be allowed to slacken on their work since they are charged with the duty of keeping the records and the seal of the court, issuing processes, entering judgments and orders, and giving certified copies of records upon request. As such, they are expected to possess a high degree of discipline and efficiency in the performance of their functions to help ensure that the cause of justice is done without delay.

As an officer of the court, respondent Clerk of Court was duty-bound to use reasonable skill and diligence in the performance of her officially-designated duties as clerk of court, failing which, warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions. In this case, respondent unjustifiably failed to issue the alias writs of execution to implement the judgment in a Civil Case, despite orders from the RTC. Moreover, she failed to file the required comment in disregard of the duty of every employee in the judiciary to obey the orders and processes of the Court without delay. Such act evinces lack of interest in clearing her name, constituting an implied admission of the charges. Mariano T. Ong vs. Eva G. Basiya-Saratan, Clerk of Court, RTC, Br. 32, Iloilo City. A.M. No. P-12-3090. January 7, 2013

Judge; disciplinary proceedings against judges; presumption of regularity. Jurisprudence is replete with cases holding that errors, if any, committed by a judge in the exercise of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through available judicial remedies. Disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies and, thus, cannot be pursued simultaneously with the judicial remedies accorded to parties aggrieved by their erroneous orders or judgments.

Even if the CA decision or portions thereof turn out to be erroneous, administrative liability will only attach upon proof that the actions of the respondent CA Justices were motivated by bad faith, dishonesty or hatred, or attended by fraud or corruption, which were not sufficiently shown to exist in this case. Neither was bias as well as partiality established. Acts or conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice must be clearly shown before he can be branded the stigma of being biased and partial. In the same vein, bad faith or malice cannot be inferred simply because the judgment or order is adverse to a party. Here, other than AMALI’s bare and self-serving claim, no act clearly indicative of bias and partiality was alleged except for the claim that respondent CA Justices misapplied the law and jurisprudence. Thus, the presumption that the respondent judge has regularly performed his duties shall prevail. Re: Verified complaint of AMA Land, Inc. against Hon. Danton Q. Bueser, et al. A.M. No. OCA IPI No. 12-202-CA-J. January 15, 2013

Judge; gross ignorance of law. Judge Sarmiento, Jr. was charged with gross ignorance of the law, manifest partiality and dereliction and neglect of duty. The court held that the judge did not commit gross ignorance of the law. Gross ignorance of the law on the part of a judge presupposes an appalling lack of familiarity with simple rules of law or procedures and well-established jurisprudence which tends to erode the public trust in the competence and fairness of the court which he personifies. The complaint states that respondent judge, in arbitrary defiance of his own September 25, 2006 Decision which constitutes res judicata or a bar to him to pass upon the issue of Geoffrey, Jr’s. custody, granted, via his March 15, 2011 Order, provisional custody over Geoffrey, Jr. to Eltesa. The Decision adverted to refers to the judgment on compromise agreement.

Respondent judge cannot be held guilty of the charges hurled by the complainant against him since there is no finding of strong reasons to rule otherwise. The preference of a child over 7 years of age as to whom he desired to live with shall be respected. Moreover, custody, even if previously granted by a competent court in favor of a parent, is not permanent. Geoffrey Beckett vs. Judge Olegario R. Sarmiento, Jr., RTC, Branch 24, Cebu City. A.M. No. RTJ-12-2326. January 30, 2013

Judge; misconduct. Misconduct means intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of law or a standard of behavior. To constitute an administrative offense, misconduct should relate to or be connected with the performance of the official functions of a public officer. In grave misconduct, as distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of an established rule must be established.

In this case, the actions of the Sandiganbayan Justices respecting the execution of the final judgment against accused Velasco were shown to be in respectful deference to the Court’s action on the various petitions filed by the former. Records are bereft of evidence showing any trace of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of the rules as to hold the Sandiganbayan Justices administratively liable for grave misconduct. Re: Complaint of Leonardo A. Velasco against Associate Justices Francisco H. Villaruz, Jr., et al. A.M. No. OCA IPI No. 10-25-SB-J. January 15, 2013

Judge; no abuse of authority when judge did not renew a temporary appointment. Complainant, a former Court Stenographer III at the RTC, failed to show any proof that she was entitled to a permanent position. Other than her allegation that she was given two “very satisfactory” and one “satisfactory” rating, there was no evidence presented that she has met the prescribed qualification standard for the position. “Such standard is a mix of the formal education, experience, training, civil service eligibility, physical health and attitude that the job requires.” Respondent judge, who is the immediate supervisor of complainant, is in the best position to observe the fitness, propriety and efficiency of the employee for the position. It should be impressed upon complainant that her appointment in the Judiciary is not a vested right. It is not an entitlement that she can claim simply for the reason that she had been in the service for almost two years.

The subsequent filing of complaint against Atty. Borja (officer-in-charge of the PAO-Virac) manifests complainant’s propensity to file complaints whenever she does not get what she wants. Such attitude should not be tolerated. Otherwise, judges will be placed in hostage situations by employees who will threaten to file complaints whenever they do not get their way with their judges.

Since there is no proof that respondent judge abused her position, the case against her should be dismissed. Respondent judge should, however, be reminded to be circumspect in her actuations so as not to give the impression that she is guilty of favoritism. Kareen P. Magtagñob vs. Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada. OCA IPI No. 11-3631-RTJ. January 16, 2013

(Mon thanks Roselle Nonato for assisting in the preparation of this post.)