April 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Court personnel; simple misconduct. An administrative case was filed against Melchor Tiongson, a Court of Appeals (CA) employee who was assigned to be the head watcher during the 2011 bar examinations. The complaint alleged that she brought a digital camera inside the bar examination rooms, in violation of the Instructions to Head Watchers. The Court held that in administrative proceedings, substantial evidence is the quantum of proof required for a finding of guilt, and this requirement is satisfied if there is reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct. Misconduct means transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by an employee. Any transgression or deviation from the established norm of conduct, work related or not, amounts to a misconduct. In this case, there was substantial evidence to prove that Tiongson committed a misconduct. Tiongson was held liable for simple misconduct only, because the elements of grave misconduct were not proven with substantial evidence, and Tiongson admitted his infraction before the Office of the Bar Confidant. As a CA employee, Tiongson disregarded his duty to uphold the strict standards required of every court employee, that is, to be an example of integrity, uprightness and obedience to the judiciary. Re: Melchor Tiongson, Head Watcher, During the 2011 Bar Examinations, B.M. No. 2482, April 1, 2014.

Judges; bias and partiality must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The Court held that the truth about Judge Austria’s alleged partiality cannot be determined by simply relying on the verified complaint. Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, in light especially of a judge’s  sacred  obligation  under  his  oath  of  office  to  administer  justice without respect to the person, and to give equal right to the poor and rich. There should be clear and convincing evidence to prove the charge; mere suspicion of partiality is not enough. In this case, aside from being speculative and judicial in character, the circumstances cited by the complainant were grounded on mere opinion and surmises. The complainant also failed to adduce proof indicating the judge’s predisposition to decide the case in favor of one party. Antonio M. Lorenzana v. Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria, RTC, Br. 2, Batangas City, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200, April 2, 2014.

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