November 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney; Accountability for Money Received from Client. Atty. Lawsin undertook to process the registration and eventually deliver, within a period of 6 months, the certificate of title over a certain parcel of land (subject land) in favor of complainant acting as the representative of the Heirs of the late Isabel Segovia. Atty. Lawsin received from complainant the amounts of P15,000 and P39,000 to cover for the litigation and land registration expenses, respectively. Atty. Lawsin, however, failed to fulfil his undertaking and failed to return the money to complainant. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Lawsin’s failure to properly account for and duly return his client’s money despite due demand is tantamount to a violation of Rules 16.01 and 16.03, Canon 16 of the Code. Complainant’s purported act of “maligning” him does not justify the latter’s failure to properly account for and return his client’s money upon due demand. Verily, a lawyer’s duty to his client is one essentially imbued with trust so much so that it is incumbent upon the former to exhaust all reasonable efforts towards its faithful compliance. Azucena Segovia-Ribaya v. Atty. Bartolome C. Lawsin, A.C. No. 7965, November 13, 2013.

Attorney; Administrative Proceedings; Sole Issue. Complainants filed a complaint for dishonesty against respondent, a retired judge, for knowingly making untruthful statements in the complaint he filed against them. The Supreme Court held that in administrative cases, the only issue within the ambit of the Court’s disciplinary authority is whether a lawyer is fit to remain a member of the Bar. Other issues are proper subjects of judicial action. On its face, the 12 September 2006 complaint filed by the Spouses Williams against Atty. Enriquez does not merit an administrative case. In order for the Court to determine whether Atty. Enriquez is guilty of dishonesty, the issue of ownership must first be settled. The issue of ownership of real property must be settled in a judicial, not administrative, case. Sps. David Williams and Marissa Williams v. Atty. Rudy T. EnriquezA.C. No. 7329, November 27, 2013.

Attorney; Gross Neglect of Duty. A complaint was filed against Atty. Venida for serious misconduct and gross neglect of duty. Complainant alleged that she engaged the services of respondent to handle her case before the CA but the respondent had been remiss. Thus, her case was dismissed. The Supreme Court held that this is a clear violation of Rule 18.04, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which enjoins lawyers to keep their clients informed of the status of their case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the clients’ request for information. Respondent’s refusal to obey the orders of the IBP is not only irresponsible, but also constitutes utter disrespect for the judiciary and his fellow lawyers. His conduct is unbecoming of a lawyer, for lawyers are particularly called upon to obey court orders and processes and are expected to stand foremost in complying with court directives being themselves officers of the court. Aurora H. Cabauatan v. Atty. Freddie A. VenidaA.C. No. 10043, November 20, 2013.

Attorney; Mishandling of Client’s Case. Complainant-Spouses filed an administrative case against Atty. Dublin for gross negligence and dereliction of duty for mishandling their case. The Supreme Court held Atty. Dublin guilty of mishandling Civil Case No. 23,396-95. Records show that the 10-day period given to him to submit his formal offer of documentary evidence pursuant to the RTC Order lapsed without any compliance from him. Atty. Dublin violated the Code of Professional Responsibility particularly Canon 18 and Rule 18.03. Respondent admitted that he deliberately failed to timely file the formal offer of exhibits because he believed that the exhibits were fabricated and the same would be refused admission by the RTC. However, if respondent truly believed that the exhibits to be presented in evidence by his clients were fabricated, then he had the option to withdraw from the case. Canon 22 allows a lawyer to withdraw his services for good cause such as “[w]hen the client pursues an illegal or immoral course of conduct with the matter he is handling” or “[w]hen the client insists that the lawyer pursue conduct violative of these canons and rules.” Thus, Atty. Dublin was imposed the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for 6 months. Sps. George A. Warriner and Aurora R. Warriner v. Atty. Reni M. DublinA.C. No. 5239, November 18, 2013.

Attorney; Notary Public; Notarial Register. Complainants filed a complaint against Atty. Kilaan for falsification of documents, dishonesty and deceit. Complainants alleged that Atty. Kilaan intercalated certain entries in the application for issuance of Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) to operate a public utility jeepney filed before the LTFRB. Complainants also alleged that the Verification in Batingwed’s application for CPC was notarized by Atty. Kilaan as Doc. No: 253, Page No. 51, Book No. VIII, Series of 2003. However, upon verification of Atty. Kilaan’s Notarial Registry submitted to the RTC, the said notarial entry actually refers to a Deed of Sale and not the Verification of Batingwed’s application. It is settled that it is the notary public who is personally accountable for the accuracy of the entries in his Notarial Register. The Court is not persuaded by respondent’s explanation that he is burdened with cases thus he was constrained to delegate the recording of his notarial acts in his Notarial Register to his secretary. Rule VI, Sections I and 2 of the 2004 Rules of Notarial Practice require a notary public to keep and maintain a Notarial Register wherein he will record his every notarial act. His failure to make the proper entry or entries in his notarial register concerning his notarial acts is a ground for revocation of his notarial commission. Since Atty. Kilaan failed to make the proper entries in his Notarial Register, his notarial commission may be properly revoked. Mariano Agadan, et al. v. Atty. Richard Baltazar Kilaan, A.C. No. 9385, November 11, 2013.

Attorney; Respect to Courts. Complainant alleged that Atty. Flores failed to give due respect to the court by failing to obey court orders, by failing to submit proof of his compliance with the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirement, and for using intemperate language in his pleadings. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Flores failed to obey the court’s order to submit proof of his MCLE compliance notwithstanding the several opportunities given him. Court orders are to be respected not because the judges who issue them should be respected, but because of the respect and consideration that should be extended to the judicial branch of the Government. This is absolutely essential if our Government is to be a government of laws and not of men. Respect must be had not because of the incumbents to the positions, but because of the authority that vests in them. Moreover, Atty. Flores employed intemperate language in his pleadings. As an officer of the court, Atty. Flores is expected to be circumspect in his language. Rule 11.03, Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility enjoins all attorneys to abstain from scandalous, offensive or menacing language or behaviour before the Courts. Hon. Maribeth Rodriguez-Manahan, Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court, San Mateo, Rizal v. Atty. Rodolfo FloresA.C. No. 8954, November 13, 2013.

Court Personnel; Dishonesty. Complainants accused respondent sheriff of grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct unbecoming an officer of the court for unlawfully and forcibly acquiring part of their lot. The Supreme Court held that respondent is guilty of simple dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, but not of grave misconduct. Dishonesty is “intentionally making a false statement on any material fact” and “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.” Respondent did not have a hand in the re-survey conducted by the DAR in 2003 which resulted in the increased land area of his lot. Nonetheless, respondent’s acts thereafter displayed his lack of honesty, fairness, and straightforwardness, not only with his neighbors, but also with the concerned government agencies/officials. Respondent’s deportment under the circumstances likewise constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Respondent appears to have illegally forced his way into the disputed area. As a Sheriff, he is expected to be familiar with court procedure and processes, especially those concerning the execution of orders and decisions of the courts. Heirs of Celestino Teves, represented by Paul John Teves Abad, Elsa C. Aquino and Filimon E. Fernan v. Augusto FelicidarioA.M. No. P-12-3089, November 13, 2013.

Court Personnel; Grave Misconduct and Dishonesty. Complainant alleged that the respondent failed to execute the decision in a land registration case despite receiving an amount for the implementation of the Alias Writ. The Supreme Court held that the deposit and payment of expenses incurred in enforcing writs are governed by Section 10, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, as revised by A.M.  No. 04-2-04-SC. The rule clearly requires that the sheriff executing a writ shall provide an estimate of the expenses to be incurred, and such estimated amount must be approved by the court. Upon approval, the interested party shall then deposit the amount with the clerk of court and ex officio sheriff. The expenses shall be disbursed to the assigned deputy sheriff to execute the writ, subject to liquidation upon the return of the writ. In this case, the money which respondent had demanded and received from complainant was not among those prescribed and authorized by the Rules of Court as it was not even accounted for earlier in his Manifestation. He merely reported his receipt of the P20,000 in his liquidation of expenses only after complainant demanded an accounting and in compliance to Judge’s directive. The Court has ruled that any amount received by the sheriff in excess of the lawful fees allowed by the Rules of Court is an unlawful exaction and renders him liable for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty. Eleanor P. Olivan v. Arnel A. Rubio, etc.A.M. No. P-13-3063, November 26, 2013.

Court Personnel; Gross Dishonesty. An administrative complaint was filed against Ibay, Clerk II of MTCC, for stealing a check. The Supreme Court held that in the absence of substantial defense to refute the charges against her, Ibay is liable for the loss of the check and the forgery of De Ocampo’s signature, leading to the check’s encashment. The case against Ibay is bolstered by the fact that Judge Eduarte found striking similarities between her handwriting in the inventory of cases and the forged endorsement in the check. Thus, there is substantial evidence to dismiss Ibay on the ground of dishonesty. Section 52(A) (1) of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service provides that dishonesty is a grave offense punishable by dismissal from the service even when committed for the first time. Persons involved in the dispensation of justice, from the highest official to the lowest clerk, must live up to the strictest standards of integrity, probity, uprightness, honesty and diligence in the public service. The Supreme Court will not tolerate dishonesty, for the judiciary deserves the best from all its employees. Executive Judge Henedino P. Eduarte, RTC, Br. 20, Cauayan, Isabela v. Elizabeth T. Ibay, Clerk II, MTCC, Cauayan, IsabelaA.C. No. P-12-3100, November 12, 2013.

Judges; Absence Without Approved Leave. Judge Villacorta III was granted authority to travel until February 3, 2011. However, he only returned to work on February 16, without securing an extension of his authority to travel abroad. This happened again for a second time. The Supreme Court held that OCA Circular No. 49-2003 (Guidelines on Requests for Travel Abroad and Extensions for Travel/Stay Abroad) requires that a request must be made for an extension of the period to travel/stay abroad, and that the request be received by the OCA ten (10) working days before the expiration of the original travel authority. Failure to do so would make the absences beyond the original period unauthorized. In this case, Judge Villacorta was in a position to file an application for leave to cover his extended stay abroad. Section 50 of Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 41, series of 1998, states that an official or an employee who is absent without approved leave shall not be entitled to receive the salary corresponding to the period of the unauthorized leave of absence. Re: Unauthorized Travel Abroad of Judge Cleto R. Villacorta III, Regional Trial Court, Branch 6, Baguio CityA.M. No. 11-9-167-RTC, November 11, 2013.

Judges; Judicial Clemency in Administrative Cases. Judge Pacalna was held administratively liable for dishonesty, serious misconduct and gross ignorance of the law or procedure, and for violation the Code of Judicial Conduct. He then filed  a Petition for Judicial Clemency. The Supreme Court laid down the following guidelines in resolving requests for judicial clemency: (1) 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; (2) Sufficient time must have lapsed from the imposition of the penalty to ensure a period of reformation; (3) 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; (4) 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; (5) There must be other relevant factors and circumstances that may  justify clemency. In this case, Judge Pacalna’s petition is not supported by any single proof of his professed repentance and therefore, must be denied. Mamasaw Sultan Ali v. Judge Baguinda-Ali Pacalna, et al., A.M. No. MTJ-03-1505, November 27, 2013.

Judges; Retirement Benefits. The surviving spouse of Judge Gruba applied for retirement/gratuity benefits under Republic Act No. 910. The 5-year lump sum gratuity due to Judge Gruba was paid to his heirs. On January 13, 2010, Congress amended Republic Act No. 910 and passed Republic Act No. 9946 which provided for more benefits, including survivorship pension benefits, among others. On January 11, 2012, Mrs. Gruba applied for survivorship pension benefits under Republic Act No. 9946. In a Resolution dated January 17, 2012, this Court approved the application of Mrs. Gruba. She received ₱1,026,748.00 for survivorship pension benefits from January 1, 2011 to April 2012. Later, however, the Supreme Court revoked the resolution dated January 17, 2012. The Supreme Court held that the law accommodates the heirs of Judge Gruba by entitling them to receive the improved gratuity benefits under Republic Act No. 9946, but it is clear that Mrs. Gruba is not entitled to the survivorship pension benefits. However, despite the fact that Mrs. Gruba is not entitled to receive survivorship pension, she no longer needs to return the survivorship pension benefits she received from January 2011 to April 2012 amounting to ₱1,026,748.00. The Supreme Court, in the past, has decided pro hac vice that a surviving spouse who received survivorship pension benefits in good faith no longer needs to refund such pensions. Re: Application for Survivorship Pension Benefits Under Republic Act 9946 of Mrs. Pacita A. Gruba, Surviving Spouse of the Late Manuel K. Gruba, Former CTA Associate JudgeA.M. No. 14155-Ret. November 19, 2013.

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