June 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

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

Attorney; Disbarment; Effect of withdrawal. A disbarment case was filed by Quiachon against her lawyer Atty. Ramos who represented her in a labor case before NLRC and a special proceeding case before the RTC. During the pendency of the proceedings, complainant withdrew the disbarment case. The Supreme Court held that the withdrawal of a disbarment case against a lawyer does not terminate or abate the jurisdiction of the IBP and of this Court to continue an administrative proceeding against a lawyer-respondent as a member of the Philippine Bar. The complainant in a disbarment case is not a direct party to the case, but a witness who brought the matter to the attention of the Court. In this case, Atty. Ramos violated Canon Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Thus, the appropriate penalty should be imposed despite the desistance of complainant or the withdrawal of the charges. Adelia V. Quiachon v. Atty. Joseph Ador A. Ramos, A.C. No. 9317, June 4, 2014.

Attorney; Quantum of proof in administrative cases. An administrative complaint for dishonesty was filed against Atty. Molina for having advised his clients to enforce a contract on complainant’s client who was never a party to the agreement. The Supreme Court in dismissing the complaint held that when it comes to administrative cases against lawyers, two things are to be considered: quantum of proof, which requires clearly preponderant evidence; and burden of proof, which is on the complainant. Here, the complaint was without factual basis. The allegation of giving legal advice was not substantiated in this case, either in the complaint or in the corresponding hearings. Bare allegations are not proof. Even if Atty. Molina did provide his clients legal advice, he still cannot be held administratively liable without any showing that his act was attended with bad faith or malice. The default rule is presumption of good faith. Atty. Alan F. Paguia v. Atty. Manuel T. Molina, A.C. No. 9881, June 4, 2014.

Court personnel; Dishonesty. Ampong was dismissed from the Civil Service Commission for dishonesty, however, remained employed in the RTC. The Supreme Court has already held in its August 26, 2008 Decision that Ampong was administratively liable for dishonesty in impersonating and taking the November 1991 Civil Service Eligibility Examination for Teachers on behalf of one Decir. Under section 58(a) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (URACCS), the penalty of dismissal carries with it the following administrative disabilities: (a) cancellation of civil service eligibility; (b) forfeiture of retirement benefits; and (c) perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any government agency or instrumentality, including any government-owned and controlled corporation or government financial institution. Ampong should be made to similarly suffer the same. Every employee of the Judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness, and honesty. Court personnel are enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice. Here, Ampong failed to meet these stringent standards set for a judicial employee and does not, therefore, deserve to remain with the Judiciary. Office of the Court Administrator v. Sarah P. Ampong, etc., A.M. No. P-13-3132, June 4, 2014.

Court personnel; Simple neglect of duty. Sheriff Macusi was charged with misfeasance, nonfeasance or conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for failing to act on a writ of execution. The Supreme Court held that the 30-day period imposed for the execution of the writ after the judgment has been received by the sheriff, as well as the periodic report every 30 days, is mandatory. Contrary to such rule, Sheriff Macusi submitted only one return of writ of execution in his Partial Report and did not file any other report to the court. Sheriffs play an important part in the administration of justice because they are tasked to execute the final judgment of courts. Thus, Sheriff Macusi was held to be remiss in his duties and thus liable for simple neglect of duty which is the failure to give attention to a task, or the disregard of a duty due to carelessness or indifference. Alberto Valdez v. Desiderio W. Macusi, Jr., Sheriff IV, RTC, Branch 25, Tabuk, Kalinga, A.M. No. P-13-3123, June 10, 2014.

Judge; Time within which certain acts must be done; Exception. An administrative complaint was filed against MCTC Judge Regencia. The Supreme Court held that pursuant to Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, prompt disposition of cases is attained basically through the efficiency and dedication to duty of judges. If judges do not possess those traits, delay in the disposition of cases is inevitable to the prejudice of the litigants.  In this case, the civil case was already submitted for resolution. Being an ejectment case, it is governed by the Rules of Summary Procedure which clearly sets a period of 30 days from the submission of the last affidavit or position paper within which a decision must be issued. Despite this, Judge Regencia rendered judgment only more than 2 years later. While rules prescribing the time within which certain acts must be done are indispensable to prevent needless delays in the orderly and speedy disposition of cases and, thus, should be regarded as mandatory, the Court has nevertheless been mindful of the plight of judges and has been understanding of circumstances that may hinder them from promptly disposing of their businesses and, as such, has allowed extensions of time due to justifiable reasons. However, Judge Regencia failed to proffer any acceptable reason in delaying the disposition of the ejectment case, thus, making her administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision. Gershon N. Dulang v. Judge Mary Jocylen G. Regencia, MCTC, Asturias-Balamban, Cebu, A.M. No. MTJ-14-1841, June 2, 2014.

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