January 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select January 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; Contingent Fee. Spouses Cadavedo hired Atty. Lacaya on a contingency basis. The Supreme Court held that spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya agreed on a contingent fee of ₱2,000.00 and not, as asserted by the latter, one-half of the subject lot.  The stipulation contained in the amended complaint filed by Atty. Lacaya clearly stated that the spouses Cadavedo hired the former on a contingency basis; the Spouses Cadavedo undertook to pay their lawyer ₱2,000.00 as attorney’s fees should the case be decided in their favor. Granting arguendo that the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya indeed entered into an oral contingent fee agreement securing to the latter one-half of the subject lot, the agreement is void. The agreement is champertous and is contrary to public policy. Any agreement by a lawyer to “conduct the litigation in his own account, to pay the expenses thereof or to save his client therefrom and to receive as his fee a portion of the proceeds of the judgment is obnoxious to the law.” The rule of the profession that forbids a lawyer from contracting with his client for part of the thing in litigation in exchange for conducting the case at the lawyer’s expense is designed to prevent the lawyer from acquiring an interest between him and his client.  The Conjugal Partnership of the Spouses Vicente Cadavedo and Benita Arcoy-Cadavedo (both deceased), substituted by their Heirs, namely: Herminia, Pastora, Heirs of Fructiosa, Heirs of Raquel, Evangeline, Vicente, Jr., and Armand, all surnamed Cadavedo, G.R. No. 173188. January 15, 2014.

Attorney; Disbarment; Deceitful and Dishonest Conduct. A Complaint for Disbarment was filed against Atty. Solidum, Jr. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Solidum, Jr. violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Conduct, as used in the Rule, is not confined to the performance of a lawyer’s professional duties. A lawyer may be disciplined for misconduct committed either in his professional or private capacity. The test is whether his conduct shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, and good demeanor, or whether it renders him unworthy to continue as an officer of the court. The Supreme Court found Atty. Solidum, Jr. guilty of engaging in dishonest and deceitful conduct, both in his professional capacity with respect to his client, Presbitero, and in his private capacity with respect to complainant Navarro.  Both Presbitero and Navarro allowed Atty. Solidum, Jr. to draft the terms of the loan agreements. Atty. Solidum, Jr. drafted the MOAs knowing that the interest rates were exorbitant. Later, using his knowledge of the law, he assailed the validity of the same MOAs he prepared. He issued checks that were drawn from his son’s account whose name was similar to his without informing complainants.  Further, there is nothing in the records that will show that he paid or undertook to pay the loans he obtained from complainants. The fiduciary nature of the relationship between the counsel and his client imposes on the lawyer the duty to account for the money or property collected or received for or from his client. Atty. Solidum, Jr. failed to fulfill this duty. Natividad P. Navarro and Hilda S. Presbitero v. Atty. Ivan M. Solidum, Jr., A.C. No. 9872, January 28, 2014.

Attorney; Disbarment; Gross Immoral Conduct. A Petition for Disbarment was filed against Atty. Celera for contracting a second marriage when his first marriage with Complainant was still subsisting. The Supreme Court held that for purposes of the disbarment proceeding, the Marriage Certificates bearing the name of Atty. Celera are competent and convincing evidence to prove that he committed bigamy, which renders him unfit to continue as a member of the Bar. Atty. Celera exhibited a deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of him as a member of the Bar. He made a mockery of marriage, a sacred institution demanding respect and dignity. His act of contracting a second marriage while his first marriage is subsisting constituted grossly immoral conduct and are grounds for disbarment under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court. Rose Bunagan-Bansig v. Atty. Rogelio Juan A. Celera, A.C. No. 5581, January 14, 2014.

Attorney; Disbarment; Willful Disobedience. A Petition for Disbarment was filed against Atty. Celera for contracting a second marriage when his first marriage with Complainant was still subsisting. Atty. Celara failed to file a Comment despite numerous Notices from the Court, stating that he never received such Notices. When said excuse seemed no longer feasible, Atty. Celera just disappeared. The Supreme Court held that Atty. Celera’s acts were deliberate, maneuvering the liberality of the Court in order to delay the disposition of the case and to evade the consequences of his actions. Ultimately, what is apparent is respondent’s deplorable disregard of the judicial process which this Court cannot countenance. Atty. Celera’s acts constitute willful disobedience of the lawful orders of this Court, which under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court is in itself alone a sufficient cause for suspension or disbarment. Respondent’s cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of the Supreme Court constitutes utter disrespect to the judicial institution. Atty. Celera’s conduct indicates a high degree of irresponsibility. A Court’s Resolution is “not to be construed as a mere request, nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately, or selectively.” Rose Bunagan-Bansig v. Atty. Rogelio Juan A. Celera, A.C. No. 5581, January 14, 2014.

Attorney; Malpractice. A Complaint was filed against Atty. Mendoza of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for violation of the attorney’s oath, deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in office under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court, and for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility. One of the charges against Atty. Mendoza which she admitted is telling her clients — “Iyak-iyakan lang ninyo si Judge Martin at palalayain na kayo. Malambot ang puso noon.” The Supreme Court held that Atty. Mendoza made irresponsible advices to her clients in violation of Rule 1.02 and Rule 15.07 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.  It is the mandate of Rule 1.02 that “a lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system.” Rule 15.07 states that “a lawyer shall impress upon his client compliance with the laws and the principles of fairness.” However, while her remark was inappropriate and unbecoming, her comment was not disparaging and reproachful so as to cause dishonor and disgrace to the Judiciary. Thus, she was only reprimanded and sternly warned. Edgardo Areola v. Atty. Maria Vilma Mendoza, A.C. No. 10135, January 15, 2014.

Court Personnel; Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct. A complaint for grave misconduct was filed against Mylene H. Dela Cruz, Clerk III of the Regional Trial Court. The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Republic Act 6713, enunciates the State’s policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service. And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the judiciary. The Supreme Court held that in this case, Dela Cruz failed to live up to these exacting standards. The inculpatory acts committed by Dela Cruz are so grave as to call for the most severe administrative penalty. Dishonesty and grave misconduct, both being in the nature of a grave offense, carry the extreme penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification for re-employment in the government service. This penalty is in accordance with Sections 52 and 58 of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service. Atty. Rhea R. Alcantara-Aquino v. Mylene H. Dela Cruz, etc., A.M. No. P-13-3141. January 21, 2014.

Court Personnel; Grave Misconduct. A Complaint for Grave Misconduct and Making Untruthful Statements was filed against Alfredo Pallanan, Sheriff IV, assigned at the Regional Trial Court. Complainant alleged that Pallanan should not have implemented the writ of execution in the unlawful detainer case since there was a pending motion for reconsideration with the court. Misconduct has been defined as “a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer.” The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, all of which must be established by substantial evidence, and must necessarily be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct. The Supreme Court ruled that Pallanan did not commit grave misconduct. In ejectment cases, the rulings of the courts are immediately executory and can only be stayed via compliance with Section 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court. Such provision was not complied here.

The sheriff’s duty in the execution of a writ is purely ministerial; he is to execute the order of the court strictly to the letter. He has no discretion whether to execute the judgment or not. When the writ is placed in his hands, it is his duty, in the absence of any instructions to the contrary, to proceed with reasonable celerity and promptness to implement it in accordance with its mandate. It is only by doing so could he ensure that the order is executed without undue delay. This holds especially true herein where the nature of the case requires immediate execution. Absent a TRO, an order of quashal, or compliance with Sec. 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court, respondent sheriff has no alternative but to enforce the writ. Atty. Virgillo P. Alconera v. Alfredo T. Pallanan, A.M. No. P-12-3069, January 20, 2014.

Court personnel; Simple neglect of duty. The audit of the financial transactions of Maniquis, former Officer-in-Charge, Clerk of Court III, and that of his successor Atty.  Buencamino (Atty. Buencamino), Clerk of Court IV uncovered shortages in the books of accounts of the Metropolitan Trial Court. Mapue, Clerk III, admitted her fault.

The Supreme Court held that the admission of Mapue of her liability does not exculpate Atty. Buencamino from her own negligence. A clerk of court has general administrative supervision over all the personnel of the court. The administrative functions of a clerk of court are as vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice as his judicial duties.  As custodian of court funds and revenues, the clerk of court is primarily accountable for all funds that are collected for the court, whether personally received by him or by a duly appointed cashier who is under his supervision and control. Atty. Buencamino was remiss in the performance of her duties as clerk of court. Atty. Buencamino failed to supervise Mapue and to properly manage the court funds entrusted to her, enabling Mapue to misappropriate part of the funds. Atty. Buencamino’s failure to properly supervise and manage the financial transactions in her court constitutes 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. It is a less grave offense punishable by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense. Office of the Court Administrator v. Atty. Mona Lisa A. Buencamino, etc., et al./Re: Report on the financial audit conducted in the Metropolitan Trial Court etc., A.M. No. P-05-2051/A.M. No. 05-4-118-MeTC. January 21, 2014.

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