March 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select March 2013 rulings of the Philippine Supreme Court on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; a lawyer shall not assist in the unauthorized practice of law.  Atty. Bancolo admitted that the Complaint he filed for a former client before the Office of the Ombudsman was signed in his name by a secretary of his law office. He likewise categorically stated that because of some minor lapses, the communications and pleadings filed against Tapay and Rustia were signed by his secretary, albeit with his tolerance. Clearly, he violated Rule 9.01 of Canon 9 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), which provides:

CANON 9 – A LAWYER SHALL NOT, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, ASSIST IN THE UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW.

Rule 9.01 – A lawyer shall not delegate to any unqualified person the performance of any task which by law may only be performed by a member of the Bar in good standing.

Atty. Bancolo’s authority and duty to sign a pleading are personal to him. Although he may delegate the signing of a pleading to another lawyer, he may not delegate it to a non-lawyer. Further, under the Rules of Court, a counsel’s signature serves as a certification that (1) he has read the pleading; (2) to the best of his knowledge, information and belief there is good ground to support it; and (3) it is not interposed for delay. Thus, by affixing one’s signature to a pleading, it is counsel alone who has the responsibility to certify to these matters and give legal effect to the document. For violating rule 9.01 of the CPR, Atty. Bacolo was meted with the penalty the suspension from the practice of law for one year. Rodrigo E. Tapay and Anthony J. Rustia v. Attys. Charlie Bancolo and Janus Jarder; A.C. No. 9604. March 20, 2013.

Attorney; disbarment complaint; outright dismissal is warranted if the complaint, on its face, lacks merit.  For resolution is the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the complainant upon the dismissal of the Complaint for disbarment he instituted against the respondent lawyers.  Complainant claims he was denied due process because (1) she was not allowed to file a Reply and (2) the Court deviated from usual procedure when it resolved the disbarment Complaint without first declaring the case to have been submitted for resolution.

The Supreme Court has the power to outrightly dismiss a Complaint for disbarment when on its face, it is clearly wanting in merit. Thus, in International Militia of People against Corruption & Terrorism v. Chief Justice Davide, Jr. (Ret.), the Court, after finding the Complaint insufficient in form and substance, dismissed the same outright for utter lack of merit.  In the instant case, the Court did not dismiss outright the disbarment Complaint. In fact, it even required the respondents to file their respective Answers. Then, after a judicious study of the records, it proceeded to resolve the same although not in complainant’s favor. Based on the Complaint and the supporting affidavits attached thereto, and the respective Comments of the respondents, the Court found that the presumption of innocence accorded to respondents was not overcome. Moreover, the Court no longer required complainant to file a Reply since it has the discretion not to require the filing of the same when it can already judiciously resolve the case based on the pleadings thus far submitted. And contrary to complainant’s mistaken notion, not all petitions or complaints reach the reply or memorandum stage. Depending on the merits of the case, the Court has the discretion either to proceed with the case by first requiring the parties to file their respective responsive pleadings or to dismiss the same outright. Likewise, the Court can proceed to resolve the case without need of informing the parties that the case is already submitted for resolution.  Jasper Junno F. Rodica v. Atty. Manuel M. Lazaro, et al.;  A.C. No. 9259. March 12, 2013.

Attorney; duty to exercise due diligence.  The Court reiterated its ruling in Del Mundo v. Capistrano that “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 client but also to the legal profession, the court and society.”

Respondent’s infractions were aggravated by his failure to comply with CBD’s directives for him to file his pleadings on time and to religiously attend hearings, demonstrating not only his irresponsibility but also his disrespect for the judiciary and his fellow lawyers. Such conduct was unbecoming of a lawyer who is called upon to obey court orders and processes and is expected to stand foremost in complying with court directives as an officer of the court. As a member of the bar, he ought to have known that the orders of the CBD as the investigating arm of the Court in administrative cases against lawyers were not mere requests but directives which should have been complied with promptly and completely.  Gloria P. Jinon v. Atty. Leonardo E. Jiz; A.C. No. 9615. March 5, 2013.

Attorney; duty to hold in trust money received from client.  Money entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose, such as for the processing of transfer of land title, but not used for the purpose, should be returned to the client immediately.  The Court held in Dhaliwal v. Dumaguing that a lawyer’s failure to return the funds he holds on behalf of a client, despite latter’s demand, gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use and constitutes a gross violation of general morality and professional ethics. Gloria P. Jinon v. Atty. Leonardo E. Jiz; A.C. No. 9615. March 5, 2013.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty; failure of branch clerk of court to keep and maintain a general docket.  Branch clerk of court Mr. Teves admitted that he failed to keep and maintain a general docket of cases assigned to their branch.  As such, he failed to comply with his duty under Section 8, Rule 136 of the Rules of Court, thus:

Sec. 8. General docket. – The clerk shall keep a general docket, each page of which shall be numbered and prepared for receiving all the entries in a single case, and shall enter therein all cases, numbered consecutively in the order in which they were received, and under the heading of each case, a complete title thereof, the date of each paper filed or issued, of each order or judgment entered, and of each other step taken in the case so that by reference a single page the history of the case may be seen.

With this infraction, Mr. Teves was held liable for simple neglect of duty.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presideing Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court; A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty; failure of branch clerk of court to schedule the promulgation of cases.  In the Datan case, Mr. Teves, instead of scheduling the case for promulgation, just gave the accused a copy of the unpromulgated decision at the time when the presiding judge was serving her suspension. Section 6, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court states that:

Sec. 6. Promulgation of judgment. – The judgment is promulgated by reading it in the presence of the accused and any judge of the court in which it was rendered. However, if the conviction is for a light offense, the judgment may be pronounced in the presence of his counsel or representative. When the judge is absent or outside the province or city, the judgment may be promulgated by the clerk of court x x x.

Clearly, as found by the OCA, Mr. Teves is guilty of simple neglect of duty. It is his duty to calendar the case for promulgation in accordance with the Rules of Court. He did not only fail to do so. Rather, he, in fact, served copies of the decision to the accused without the judgment having been promulgated first.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presideing Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court; A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Court personnel; simple neglect of duty; imposable penalty.  Simple neglect of duty is defined as the “failure of an employee to give one’s attention to a task expected of him, and signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference.” Under the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, simple neglect of duty is a less grave offense penalized with suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense, and dismissal for the second.

In the determination of the proper penalty, the Court looked into Mr. Teves’ past administrative cases.

Considering his past infractions and having been warned that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely, Mr. Teves still has not reformed. He has remained undeterred in disregarding the law and he appears to be unfazed by the previous penalties and warnings he received. Mr. Teves’ repeated infractions seriously compromise efficiency and hamper public service which the Court can no longer tolerate. As such, he was meted with the penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of all benefits and privileges, except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presideing Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court;  A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Judges; duty to adopt an efficient system to monitor the status of cases.  The OCA found that the court failed to maintain a general docket book to keep track of the cases under it. Although the duty is vested with Mr. Teves as the Branch Clerk of Court, it is the duty of Judge Tormis to make sure that the members of her staff perform their duties. The OCA also found that Mr. Teves repeatedly submitted inaccurate reports as to the actual number of cases pending with their court. This is brought about by their failure to adopt an efficient system of monitoring their cases. Again, this is the primary responsibility of Judge Tormis. Finally, the OCA noted that Judge Tormis failed to conduct an actual physical inventory of cases to keep abreast of the status of the pending cases and to be informed that every case is in proper order.

Judge Tormis is guilty of violating Supreme Court rules, directives, and circulars for her failure to comply with her duty to provide an efficient court management system in her court which includes the preparation and use of docket inventory and monthly report of cases as tools thereof. Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court; A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Judges; gross ignorance of the law; when the law is sufficiently basic, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.  Judge Tormis issued the warrant of arrest in violation of the Rule on Summary Procedure that the accused should first be notified of the charges against him and given the opportunity to file his counter-affidavits and other countervailing evidence. The Revised Rules on Summary Procedure has been in effect since November 15, 1991. It finds application in a substantial number of civil and criminal cases. Judge Tormis cannot claim to be unfamiliar with the same. Every judge is required to observe the law. When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to simply apply it; and anything less than that would be constitutive of gross ignorance of the law. In short, when the law is so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presideing Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court;  A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Judges; gross inefficiency; gross ignorance of the law; imposable penalties.  Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC dated September 11, 2001, violation of Supreme Court rules, directives and circulars, and gross inefficiency are categorized as less serious charges with the following sanctions: (a) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one nor more than three months; or (b) a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.

Moreover, gross ignorance of the law is classified as serious charge under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, and penalized under Section 11 (a), Rule 140 of the same Rules by: (1) Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall, in no case, include accrued leave credits; (2) Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3), but not exceeding six (6) months; or (3) a fine of more than P20,000.00, but not exceeding P40,000.00.

In determining the proper imposable penalty, we also consider Judge Tormis’ work history which reflects how she performed her judicial functions. We find that there are several administrative cases already filed against her, with most of these cases being decided against her. These cases show her inability to properly discharge her judicial duties. Considering her past infractions and taking into account the number of irregularities she committed in this present case, Judge Tormis was meted with the penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of all benefits and privileges, except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presideing Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court;  A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Judges; motion to inhibit; grounds.  As held in Sps. Hizon v. Sps. dela Fuente, “an inhibition must be for just and valid reason.” Complainant’s mere imputation that the case was decided by the magistrates of the Court with extreme bias and prejudice is baseless and clearly unfounded.  Jasper Junno F. Rodica v. Atty. Manuel M. Lazaro, et al.; A.C. No. 9259. March 12, 2013.

Judges; undue delay in deciding cases.  The honor and integrity of the judicial system is measured not only by the fairness and correctness of decisions rendered, but also by the efficiency with which disputes are resolved. Under the 1987 Constitution, trial judges are mandated to decide and resolve cases within 90 days from submission for decision or resolution. Corollary to this constitutional mandate, Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary requires judges to perform all judicial duties efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness. The mandate to promptly dispose of cases or matters also applies to motions or interlocutory matters or incidents pending before the magistrate. Unreasonable delay of a judge in resolving a pending incident is a violation of the norms of judicial conduct and constitutes gross inefficiency that warrants the imposition of an administrative sanction against the defaulting magistrate.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court; A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013; Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City / Paulino Bural, Sr. v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City; A.M. No. RTJ-13-2342 / A.M. No. RTJ-12-2318. March 6, 2013.

Judge Fuentes III concedes that there is no valid justification for the delay in resolving the cases pending in his court. Indeed, his frequent travels to his residence in Ozamis City, which led to travel fatigue and poor health, will not absolve him from liability. If a judge is unable to comply with the period for deciding cases or matters, he can, for good reasons, ask for an extension. Without an extension granted by the Court, the failure to decide even a single case within the required period constitutes gross inefficiency that merits administrative sanction. Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City / Paulino Bural, Sr. v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City;  A.M. No. RTJ-13-2342 / A.M. No. RTJ-12-2318. March 6, 2013.

Judges; undue delay in deciding cases; administrative sanctions.  An inexcusable failure to decide a case within the prescribed 90-day period constitutes gross inefficiency, warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions such as suspension from office without pay or fine on the defaulting judge. The fines imposed vary in each case, depending on the following factors: (1) the number of cases not decided within the reglamentary period; (2) the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances; (3) the damage suffered by the parties as a result of the delay; (4) the health and age of the judge; and (5) other analogous circumstances.

In this case, the fine was reduced considering that this was the first infraction of Judge Fuentes III in his more than 15 years in the service. The Court likewise took into consideration the fact that the respondent judge exerted earnest efforts to fully comply with the Court’s directives as contained in the resolution. Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City / Paulino Bural, Sr. v. Judge Fernando G. Fuentes, RTC, Br. 49, Tagbilaran City; A.M. No. RTJ-13-2342 / A.M. No. RTJ-12-2318. March 6, 2013.

Judges; undue delay in deciding cases; suspension from office is not a justification for the delay.  Respondent judge claimed that the delay was the consequence of the three suspension orders issued against her as she was suspended for an aggregate period of almost one year and six months. Records reveal, however, that Judge Tormis was repeatedly suspended in cases wherein she committed a breach of her duty as a member of the Bench. She cannot, therefore, be allowed to use the same to justify another violation of her solemn oath to dispense justice. Even if she was allowed to avail of this excuse, as aptly observed by the OCA, several of the cases that she failed to dispose of had been overdue for decision or resolution even prior to said suspensions.  Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Rosabella M. Tormis, Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 4, Cebu City and Mr. Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court, same court; A.M. No. MTJ-12-1818. March 12, 2013.

Jurisdiction of the Court over administrative proceedings.   An administrative matter was instituted against Judge Grageda, based on the result of a judicial audit conducted after his retirement. According to the Supreme Court, for it to acquire jurisdiction over an administrative proceeding, the complaint must be filed during the incumbency of the respondent public official or employee. This is because the filing of an administrative case is predicated on the holding of a position or office in the government service. However, once jurisdiction has attached, the same is not lost by the mere fact that the public official or employee was no longer in office during the pendency of the case.

In present case, Judge Grageda’s retirement effectively barred the Court from pursuing the instant administrative proceeding that was instituted after his tenure in office, and divested the Court, much less the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), of any jurisdiction to still subject him to the rules and regulations of the judiciary and/or to penalize him for the infractions committed while he was still in the service.  Accordingly, the complaint against retired Judge Grageda was dismissed. Office of the Court Administrator v. Jesus L. Grageda; A.M. No. RTJ-10-2235. March 11, 2013.

 (Mon thanks Miracle Anne Rodriguez for assisting in the preparation of this post.)

Advertisements