June 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select June 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Administrative Complaint; moot and academic. The Court dismissed the complaint filed by Inter-Petal Recreational Corporation against Chief Justice Renato Corona for being moot and academic after considering the judgment of the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, which found the Chief Justice guilty of the charge under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment, with the penalty of removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines as provided in Section 3(7), Article XI of the Constitution. Re: Complaint Against the Honorable Chief Justice Renato C. Corona dated September 14, 2011 filed by Inter-Petal Recreational Corporation, A.M. No. 12-6-10-SC. June 13, 2012

Attorneys; disbarment cases imprescriptible. The defense of prescription is untenable. The Court has held that administrative cases against lawyers do not prescribe.  The lapse of considerable time from the commission of the offending act to the institution of the administrative complaint will not erase the administrative culpability of a lawyer.  Otherwise, members of the bar would only be emboldened to disregard the very oath they took as lawyers, prescinding from the fact that as long as no private complainant would immediately come forward, they stand a chance of being completely exonerated from whatever administrative liability they ought to answer for. Fidela Bengco and Teresita Bengco vs. Atty. Pablo Bernardo, A.C. No. 6368, June 13, 2012.

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February 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select February 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Administrative cases against lawyers; prescriptive period.  The two-year prescriptive period for initiating a complaint against a lawyer for disbarment or suspension provided under Section 1, Rule VIII of the Rules of Procedure of the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline should be construed to mean two years from the date of discovery of the professional misconduct.  Nesa Isenhardt vs. Atty. Leonardo M. Real, A.C. No. 8254, February 15, 2012.

Attorney; disqualification as notary public. A notary public should not notarize a document unless the person who signs it is the same person who executed it, personally appearing before him to attest to the contents and the truth of what are stated therein. This is to enable the notary public to verify the genuineness of the signature of the acknowledging party and to ascertain that the document is the party’s free act. The duties of a notary public is dictated by public policy and impressed with public interest. It is not a meaningless ministerial act of acknowledging documents executed by parties who are willing to pay the fees for notarization.  It is of no moment that the subject SPA was not utilized by the grantee for the purpose it was intended because the property was allegedly transferred from complainant to her brother by virtue of a deed of sale consummated between them. What is being penalized is respondent’s act of notarizing a document despite the absence of one of the parties. A notarized document is by law entitled to full credit upon its face and it is for this reason that notaries public must observe the basic requirements in notarizing documents.  Otherwise, the confidence of the public in notarized documents will be undermined.  Nesa Isenhardt vs. Atty. Leonardo M. Real, A.C. No. 8254, February 15, 2012.

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April 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected April 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; negligence. A complaint for disciplinary action was filed against Atty. Macario Ga due to his failure to reconstitute or turn over to his client the records of the case in his possession. The Code of Professional Responsibility mandates lawyers to serve their clients with competence and diligence.  Rule 18.03 and Rule 18.04 state:  Rule 18.03.  A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable; Rule 18.04.  A lawyer shall keep the client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the client’s request for information.  Respondent Atty. Ga breached these duties when he failed to reconstitute or turn over the records of the case to his client, herein complainant Gone. His negligence manifests lack of competence and diligence required of every lawyer.  His failure to comply with the request of his client was a gross betrayal of his fiduciary duty and a breach of the trust reposed upon him by his client.  Respondent’s sentiments against complainant Gone is not a valid reason for him to renege on his obligation as a lawyer.  The moment he agreed to handle the case, he was bound to give it his utmost attention, skill and competence.  Public interest requires that he exert his best efforts and all his learning and ability in defense of his client’s cause.  Those who perform that duty with diligence and candor not only safeguard the interests of the client, but also serve the ends of justice.  They do honor to the bar and help maintain the community’s respect for the legal profession.  Patricio Gone v. Atty. Macario Ga, A.C. No. 7771, April 6, 2011.

Court personnel; conduct unbecoming.  Sheriff Villarosa’s failure to comply with Section 9 of Rule 39 by delaying the deposit of the final amount he received (from a judgment debtor pursuant to a writ of execution) and not delivering the other amounts to the Clerk of Court; and to faithfully account for the amounts he received thru his failure to deliver the exact amounts, are clear manifestation of conduct unbecoming of a government employee, tantamount to grave abuse of authority and dishonesty.  The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees enunciates the state policy to promote a high standard of ethics in public service, and enjoins public officials and employees to discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity and competence. Section 4 of the Code lays down the norms of conduct which every public official and employee shall observe in the discharge and execution of their official duties, specifically providing that they shall at all times respect the rights of others, and refrain from doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order, and public interest. Thus, any conduct contrary to these standards would qualify as conduct unbecoming of a government employee.   Ma. Chedna Romero v. Pacifico B. Villarosa, Jr., Sheriff IV, RTC, Br 17 Palompon, Leyte, A.M. No. P-11-2913, April 12, 2011.

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July 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected July 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; attorney’s fees. The issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits with the following integral sub-issues: (1) the reasonableness of the 10% contingent fee given that the recovery of Tiwi’s share [in unpaid realty taxes] was not solely attributable to the legal services rendered by respondent, (2) the nature, extent of legal work, and significance of the cases allegedly handled by respondent which reasonably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the recovery of Tiwi’s share, and (3) the relative benefit derived by Tiwi from the services rendered by respondent. The amount of reasonable attorney’s fees finally determined by the trial court should be without legal interest in line with well-settled jurisprudence. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jaime C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010.

Attorney; engagement of private counsel by GOCC. In Phividec Industrial Authority v. Capitol Steel Corporation, we listed three (3) indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire a private lawyer: (1) private counsel can only be hired in exceptional cases; (2) the GOCC must first secure the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be; and (3) the written concurrence of the COA must also be secured.  Failure to comply with all three conditions would constitute appearance without authority.  A lawyer appearing after his authority as counsel had expired is also appearance without authority.  Rey Vargas, et al. vs. Atty. Michael Ignes, et al., A.C. No. 8096, July 5, 2010.

Attorney; engagement of private counsel by LGU. Pursuant to this provision [Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC], the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Court’s Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jaime C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010.

Attorney; gross misconduct. In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. However, in this case, we deem it reasonable to affirm the sanction imposed by the IBP-CBD, i.e., Atty. Valerio was ordered suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years, because, aside from issuing worthless checks and failing to pay her debts, she has also shown wanton disregard of the IBP’s and Court Orders in the course of the proceedings. A-1 Financial Services, Inc. vs. Atty. Laarni N. Valerio, A.C. No. 8390, July 2, 2010.

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June 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected June 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attoney; grossly immoral act. Respondent’ acts of converting his secretary into a mistress; contracting two marriages with Shirley and Leny, are grossly immoral which no civilized society in the world can countenance. The subsequent detention and torture of the complainant is gross misconduct which only a beast may be able to do. In fine, by engaging himself in acts which are grossly immoral and acts which constitute gross misconduct, respondent has ceased to possess the qualifications of a lawyer. Rosario T. Mecaral vs. Atty. Danilo S. Velasquez, A.C. No. 8392, June 29, 2010.

Attorney; representation within bounds of the law. Canon 19 of the Code provides that a lawyer shall represent his client with zeal within the bounds of the law. For this reason, Rule 15.07 of the Code requires a lawyer to impress upon his client compliance with the law and principles of fairness. A lawyer must employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his client. It is his duty to counsel his clients to use peaceful and lawful methods in seeking justice and refrain from doing an intentional wrong to their adversaries. Rural Bank of Calape, Inc. (RBCI), Bohol vs. Atty. James Benedict Florido, A.C. No. 5736, June 18, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty and falsification of public document. Dishonesty is defined as intentionally making a false statement on any material fact in securing one’s examination, appointment, or registration. Dishonesty is a serious offense which reflects a person’s character and exposes the moral decay which virtually destroys honor, virtue, and integrity. It is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary, as no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness from an employee than a position in the judiciary. A birth certificate, being a public document, serves as prima facie evidence of filiation. The making of a false statement therein constitutes dishonesty and falsification of a public document. Anonymous vs. Emma B. Curamen, A.M. No. 08-2549. June 18, 2010.

Court personnel; gross misconduct. Pagulayan indeed committed the transgression Judge Beltran charged. What Pagulayan did is the nightmare of every decisionmaker and magistrate who is usually the last to know that somebody has used his or her name to ask for money – “para kay Fiscal o para kay Judge” as mulcters reputedly always say. Pagulayan’s misconduct, it must be stressed, brought dishonor to the administration of justice in particular and, to the public service in general. Indeed, Pagulayan failed to live up to the standards of honesty and integrity required in the public service. In the words of the Constitution, public office is a public trust and Pagulayan betrayed this trust. Under Civil Service rules, gross misconduct is a grave offense and punishable by dismissal. Judge Orlando D. Beltran vs. Vilma C. Pagulayan, Interpreter III, RTC, Branch 2, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, A.M. No. P-05-2014, June 29, 2010.

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March 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected March 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; administrative proceedings; desistance. Complainant Plaza manifested before the Court his intention to desist from pursuing the case.  However, we remind complainant that the discretion whether to continue with the proceedings rests exclusively with the Court, notwithstanding the complainant’s intention to desist.  This Court looks with disfavor at affidavits of desistance filed by complainants, especially if done as an afterthought.  Contrary to what the parties might have believed, withdrawal of the complaint does not have the legal effect of exonerating respondent from any administrative disciplinary sanction.  It does not operate to divest this Court of jurisdiction to determine the truth behind the matter stated in the complaint.  The Court’s disciplinary authority cannot be dependent on or frustrated by private arrangements between parties.  An administrative complaint against an official or employee of the judiciary cannot simply be withdrawn by a complainant who suddenly claims a change of mind.  Otherwise, the prompt and fair administration of justice, as well as the discipline of court personnel, would be undermined. Ryan S. Plaza, Clerk of Court, Municipal Trial Court, Argao, Cebu vs. Atty. Marcelina R. Amamio, Clerk of Court, Genoveva R. Vasquez, Legal Researcher and Floramay Patalinhug, Court Stenographer, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Argao, Cebu, A.M. No. P-08-2559, March 19, 2010.

Court personnel; dishonesty. Complainant stated that respondent Atty. Cariño may not have disclosed to the Supreme Court, in the course of her application as Clerk of Court, her pending administrative and criminal cases before the Ombudsman. Respondent Atty. Cariño vehemently denied the allegations against her.  She claimed that she was just being truthful when she answered “No” to item number 37(a) of her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) which states:  “Have you ever been formally charged?”  She admitted that she was aware of the two (2) complaints filed against her and her former Regional Election Director before the Ombudsman.  She, however, pointed out that these cases are still in the preliminary investigation and pre-charge stages, since probable cause has yet to be determined by the investigating officers and as such, should not be considered as formal charges yet.

If we but look at the attachments to the complaint itself, it is evident that at the time respondent Atty. Cariño was applying for the position of Clerk of Court, she had not yet been “formally charged” administratively or criminally. Clearly, there were no final dispositions of the cases yet.  In fact, the complainant even stated in his Complaint that those cases were not yet resolved by the Ombudsman. Thus, it is only after the issuance of the resolution finding probable cause and filing of the information in court that she can be considered formally charged.  In fact, the reckoning point is the filing of the information with the written authority or approval of the Ombudsman. To rule otherwise would subject herein respondent, or any civil servant for that matter, to extreme hardships considering that a government official or employee formally charged is deprived of some rights/privileges, i.e., obtaining loans from the Government Service Insurance System or other government-lending institutions, delay in the release of retirement benefits, disqualification from being nominated or appointed to any judicial post and, in some instances, prohibition to travel. Crisostomo M. Plopinio vs. Atty. Liza Zabala-Cariño, etc., A.M. No. P-08-2458, March 22, 2010.

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February 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected February 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; administrative complaint; effect of resignation. Respondent Nuñez has filed his resignation on September 5, 2008, which was subsequently accepted by the Court, subject to the usual clearance requirements and without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings in the instant administrative case.  Nonetheless, the fact of his resignation and our approval thereof does not render moot the complaint against him.  Our jurisdiction over him is not lost by the mere fact that he resigned during the pendency of the case.  To deprive the Court of authority to pronounce his innocence or guilt of the charges is undoubtedly fraught with injustices and pregnant with dreadful and dangerous implications. What would prevent a corrupt and unscrupulous government employee from committing abuses and other condemnable acts knowing fully well that he would soon be beyond the pale of the law and immune to all administrative penalties?  Resignation should be used neither as an escape nor as an easy way out to evade administrative liability by court personnel facing administrative sanction. If only for reasons of public policy, the Court must assert and maintain its jurisdiction over members of the judiciary and other officials under its supervision and control for acts performed in office which are inimical to the service and prejudicial to the interests of litigants and the general public. If innocent, respondent official merits vindication of his name and integrity as he leaves the government which he served well and faithfully; if guilty, he deserves to receive the corresponding censure and a penalty proper and imposable under the situation.  Judge Delia P. Noel-Bertulfo, Municipal Trial Court, Palompon, Leyte vs. Fyndee P. Nuñez, Court Aide, Municipal Trial Court, Palompon, Leyte, A.M. No. P-10-2758, February 2, 2010.

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