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A Survey of Pertinent Cases in Legal Ethics

2008-2010
by: Prof. Erickson H. Balmes
I. CODE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
1. The disbarment case against respondent Atty. Singson stemmed from his alleged
attempt, as counsel of Ramon Ilusorio (Ramon) in Civil Case No. 4537-R, to exert
influence on presiding Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Reyes to rule in Ramon’s
favor. To complainant-petitioners, the bid to influence, which allegedly came in the
form of a bribe offer, may be deduced from the following exchanges during the May
31, 2000 hearing on Ramon’s motion for Judge Reyes to inhibit himself from hearing
Civil Case No. 4537-R. In the said hearing, Judge Reyes narrated that Atty. Singson
has been calling his residence in Baguio City for about 20 to 50 times already and
had offered Atty. Oscar Sevilla, his classmate at Ateneo Law School P500,000 to give
it to him for the purpose of ruling in favor of Ramon. Complainant-petitioners
likewise submitted an affidavit made by Judge Reyes concerning the attempts of
Atty. Singson to bribe him concerning the case of Ramon Ilusorio vs. Baguio Country
Club. The attempts to bribe him consisted of visiting him about three times in his
office and making a dozen calls to his Manila and Baguio Residences offering him
bribe money. Complainant-petitioners also submitted Atty. Oscar Sevilla’s affidavit
to support the attempted bribery charge against Atty. Singson.
In view of the foregoing considerations, petitioners prayed for the disbarment or
discipline of Atty. Singson for attempted bribery and gross misconduct.
WHETHER OR NOT ATTY. SINGSON SHOULD BE ADMINISTRATIVELY
DISCIPLINED OR DISBARRED FROM THE PRACTICE OF LAW FOR ALLEGED
GROSS MISCONDUCT IN ATTEMPTING TO BRIBE JUDGE ANTONIO REYES
There is a well-grounded reason to believe that Atty. Singson indeed attempted to
influence Judge Reyes decide a case in favor of Atty. Singson’s client. The interplay
of the documentary evidence presented provide for the reason. Significantly, Atty.
Singson admitted having made phone calls to Judge Reyes, either in his residence or
office in Baguio City during the period material. He offers the lame excuse, however,
that he was merely following up the status of a temporary restraining order applied
for and sometimes asking for the resetting of hearings.
The Court finds the explanation proffered as puerile as it is preposterous. Matters
touching on case status could and should be done through the court staff, and
resetting is usually accomplished thru proper written motion or in open court. And
going by Judge Reyes’ affidavit, the incriminating calls were sometimes made late in
the evening and sometimes in the most unusual hours, such as while Judge Reyes
was playing golf with Atty. Sevilla. Atty. Sevilla lent corroborative support to Judge
Reyes’ statements, particularly about the fact that Atty. Singson wanted Judge
Reyes apprised that they, Singson and Sevilla, were law school classmates.

2008. Sevilla did not mention any related matter in his affidavit. June 5. Elamparo of GSIS that legal representatives of Meralco allegedly tried to influence Justice Roxas. ILUSORIO. Sevilla. 2008. Singson. then Chairperson of the Ninth Division of the CA. The possibility of an attempted bribery is not far from reality considering Atty. Even Atty. The transaction is always done in secret and often only between the two parties concerned. 2008. there is nevertheless enough proof to hold Atty. Singson of attempted bribery. petitioners prayed for the issuance of a preliminary injunction that should thereafter be declared permanent. Atty. filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). While the alleged attempted bribery may perhaps not be supported by evidence other than Judge Reyes’ statements..The fact that Atty. al. 2008 to June 5. On May 29. Singson did talk on different occasions to Judge Reyes. GSIS filed an ex-parte motion to have the . Singson was indeed trying to influence the judge to rule in his client’s favor. Singson’s persistent phone calls. Judge Reyes’ disclosures in his affidavit and in open court deserve some weight. RAMON K. CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT 1. et.R. ILUSORIO Vs. This conduct is not acceptable in the legal profession for it violates Canon 13 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. On April 15. Reyes (Justice Reyes). filed an application for leave from May 15. itself a transgression of considerable gravity. G. Sevilla. Indeed. leads us to conclude that Atty. However. BILDNER and MAXIMO K. But due to the information from Atty. In assessing the case. there is no concrete evidence in the records regarding the commission by Atty. Singson liable for unethical behavior of attempting to influence a judge. one of which he made while Judge Reyes was with Atty. 2009) II. as well as a declaration of nullity of the cease and desist and show cause orders issued by the SEC. officers. we must stress the difficulty of proving bribery. The case was raffled to Justice Vicente Roxas (Justice Roxas). Justice Jose Mendoza (Justice Mendoza) was then designated as Acting Chairman of the Ninth Division during the absence of Justice Reyes. a suspension for one year from the practice of law appears appropriate. Judge Reyes’ declaration may have been an "emotional outburst" as described by Atty. 157384. ERLINDA K. but the spontaneity of an outburst only gives it more weight. Justice Bienvenido L. Nevertheless. (ERLINDA I. directors and/or representatives of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco). ILUSORIO. heeding the injunction against decreeing disbarment where a lesser sanction would suffice to accomplish the desired end. side from the application for immediate issuance of a TRO. No. initially through a mutual friend.

It also set the hearing for the application for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction. Convinced of the urgency of the TRO. which "represents the interest of the poor people. Justice Sabio received a telephone call in his chambers from his older brother. Atty." The unidentified caller told Atty. Justice Reyes wrote Presiding Justice Vasquez a letter calling the attention of Justice Cruz as to who between him and Justice Sabio should receive the case. Justice Cruz opined that "notwithstanding the issuance of the TRO (not writ of preliminary injunction)." and asked his brother to help the GSIS. Chairman Sabio informed his brother that he (Justice Sabio) had been named the "third member" of the division to which the MERALCOGSIS case had been raffled. the TRO which he had prepared. with the petitioners given five days from receipt of that comment within which to file their reply." at which the respondents "must be able to convince" him that the TRO indeed had no legal basis. Meanwhile. already signed by himself and Justice Dimaranan-Vidal. Justice Sabio was surprised as he had not yet been "officially informed" about the matter. Roxas and DimarananVidal." Likewise. Justice Reyes came back from his leave and a question arose as to who should have the records of the case." Hence. issued the Resolution granting the TRO prayed for by the petitioners and directing the respondents to file their respective comments (not a motion to dismiss) to the petition within ten days from notice." . Thus. The motion was granted. Chairman Camilo Sabio (Chairman Sabio) of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and a certain Mr De Borja. Chairman Sabio then tried to convince Justice Sabio "of the rightness of the stand of the GSIS and the SEC. Chairman Sabio likewise informed him that a TRO had been prepared. Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Sabio. the Special Ninth Division composed of Justices Sabio. Elamparo "received a telephone call from somebody who did not identify herself but (who) said that she had important information regarding the Meralco case. for the latter’s signature." Justice Sabio told his brother that he would "vote according to [his] conscience" and that the most that he could do was "to have the issuance of the TRO and the injunctive relief scheduled for oral arguments. Justice Sabio insisted that the rollo should be with him. (Justice Sabio) was assigned as Acting Chairman of the Ninth Division by raffle. is it Justice Sabio (Acting Chairman of 9th Division) or Justice Reyes. Thereafter. Justice Cruz responded that the issuance of a TRO is not among the instances where ‘the Justices who participated’ in the case shall ‘remain’ therein. the case reverted to the regular Chairman (Justice Reyes) of the Ninth Division upon his return. Elamparo that "a TRO was already being prepared and that certain Meralco lawyers had in fact been talking to Justice Roxas. Justice Sabio signed it on condition that the case will be set for oral arguments.case re-raffled and for Justice Roxas to be inhibited from participating in the case on the ground that he used to be a lawyer of the Meralco. Justice Jose Sabio Jr.

seeking to meet with him for an "important" matter." But before Presiding Justice Vasquez was able to resolve the matter. WHETHER CERTAIN JUSTICES OF THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED IMPROPRIETIES AND VIOLATIONS OF THE CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT Justice Roxas. Mr. however denied such allegations and countered instead that it was Justice Sabio who solicited P50 Million from him.with the prerequisite of the IRCA that consultation and/or deliberation among the members of the Division must precede the drafting of a decision. he had signed it. His testimony that when he brought the Meralco decision ." Before the close of office hours. Justice Sabio. Meanwhile." Justice Roxas went out for a while and returned "with an expensive looking travelling bag" from where he pulled out the "purported final decision. Roxas and Bruselas to the Eighth Division. Justice Roxas returned to the chambers of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal to check if he (Justice Roxas) had signed his decision. Justice Reyes went to see the Presiding Justice about the urgent motion for him to assume the chairmanship of the Division. On July 4. fairly and with reasonable promptness. Justice Roxas is guilty of gross dishonesty. Mr. efficiently. De Borja intended to influence Justice Sabio to side with Meralco. Justice Dimaranan-Vidal signed it." According to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal. Justice Sabio did not know if the bag contained P10 million. for inexcusably failing to act on a number of motions of the parties prior to the promulgation of the Decision is found to have violated Section 5 of Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct which mandates that judges shall perform all judicial duties. The so-called "transcript" is a fabrication designed to deceive that there had been compliance . Justice Roxas explained to her the "rationale for his conclusion. Moreover. opined that "a temporary restraining order is part of the injunctive relief or at least its initial action such that he should be the one to chair the Division. which he was handling "as if something important" was inside. 2008. Justice Roxas personally picked up the decision that day "purportedly for the action of the Acting Chairman." who was then on leave of absence.when actually there was none -. When she replied that yes. including the delivery of reserved decisions. True to his word. which he gave to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal for "concurrence/dissent. Mr. De Borja again called up Justice Sabio. the reorganization of the Court of Appeals became effective and brought Justices Reyes. Justice Reyes went ahead with Justice Roxas and decided on who should be the chairman over the said case. Justice Roxas said he would pick it up the next day After "a careful and judicious study" of the more than 56-page decision of Justice Roxas. Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal "the final decision on the MERALCO case" bearing his signature.Justice Sabio. in turn. Subsequently. it has become well-settled in jurisprudence that even just undue delay in the resolving pending motions or incidents within the reglementary period fixed by law is not excusable and constitutes gross inefficiency. At that time. De Borja was carrying a "sealed" brown paper bag. De Borja." Thus. However.

which is mitigated by the fact that he repeatedly asked Presiding Justice Vasquez to act on his request to rule on the conflicting interpretation of the IRCA. with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty. with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty. grave misconduct. His "rush to judgment" was indicative of "undue interest and unseemly haste Associate Justice Vicente Q. Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court. Sabio. Section 8 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary that: "Judges shall exhibit and promote high standards of judicial conduct (and discretion) in order to reinforce public confidence in the judiciary which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial independence. is found guilty of simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a justice of the Court of Appeals and is SUSPENDED for two (2) months without pay. undue interest and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Nevertheless. the continued communications between Justice Sabio and Mr.’s action of discussing the Meralco case with De Borja was highly inappropriate and indiscreet." Indeed. Justice Sabio Jr. As for Justice Reyes. However. De Borja even after the latter’s rejected bribery attempt is highly inappropriate and shows poor judgment on the part of Justice Sabio who should have acted in preservation of the dignity of his judicial office and the institution to which he belongs. with prejudice to his reemployment in any branch or service of the government including government-owned and controlled corporations Associate Justice Jose L. . He ignored the injunction in Canon 1. Justice Reyes is guilty of simple misconduct. because she asked if she may read it. Justice Reyes should be reprimanded for taking part in the decision of the subject case without awaiting the ruling of the Presiding Justice. 2008. Justice Roxas’ questionable handling of the Meralco case demonstrates his undue interest therein. on the other hand. dishonesty is considered a serious offense that may warrant the penalty of dismissal from the service. he is found guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating circumstance and is REPRIMANDED. Roxas is found guilty of multiple violations of the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal on July 8. Jr. Lastly. dishonesty. Moreover. except accrued leave credits if any. and is DISMISSED from the service. not for her to sign it. Justice Roxas prepared the decision before the parties had filed their memoranda in the case and submitted it to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal for her signature on July 8. the Court agrees with the Panel that the allegation of solicitation on the part of Justice Sabio is not credible. Justice Roxas showed a lack of courtesy and respect for his colleagues in the Court of Appeals.. Section 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct. judges are mandated to show the appropriate consideration and respect for their colleagues in the Judiciary. 2008. It bears repeating here that under Canon 5. is completely false. with FORFEITURE of all benefits. it was only a draft for her to read.

respondent Judge granted the TRO and ordered Oakridge to reopen the leased premises and to padlock it only if the proper bond was not posted on or before June 18. SP NO. Bernas. is found guilty of conduct unbecoming a Justice of the Court of Appeals and is ADMONISHED to be more circumspect in the discharge of her judicial duties. on the other hand. 08-8-11-CA. Atty.R. v. No. She violated Sections 1 and 2 of Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. JR. September 9. Then respondent Judge issued several Orders which are the bases for the instant complaint against respondent Judge. VASQUEZ. 2001. and during the pendency of the eviction suit. 2004. The facts state that herein complainant was the counsel for Oakridge Properties. This was heard on June 11. 2004. She deviated from the IRCA when she allowed herself to be rushed by Justice Roxas to sign the Meralco decision on July 8. filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) a complaint charging respondent Judge Julia Reyes (Judge Reyes) of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 69 of Pasig City with gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality in connection with an eviction suit before the sala of respondent Judge. she also ordered plaintiff [Oakridge] to remove the padlock in the premises within twenty days from date of said order and ordering plaintiff to discontinue the intended inventory of properties found inside the aforesaid premises pending the resolution of this case. ON CA-G.. She also set the pre-trial or preliminary conference hearing on June 22. Allowing a fellow justice to induce her to deviate from established procedure constitutes conduct unbecoming a justice for which Justice Dimaranan-Vidal should be ADMONISHED to be more circumspect in the performance of her judicial duties. Accordingly. 103692 [Antonio Rosete.Justice Dimaranan-Vidal. Atty. et al. et al. alleging that it was authorized to do so by the terms and conditions of the Contract of Lease. Joseph M. . First. 2008. Alejandro then filed a Petition for Writ of Preliminary Injunction with prayer for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to have the unit reopened.M. At the hearing. For his part. Atty. Alejandro. On June 1. 2004. without reading the parties’ memoranda and without the deliberation among members of the Division required by the IRCA. Inc. Judge Reyes approved the TRO filed by Atty. to explain in writing within 48 hours from receipt of this Order why they should not both be cited in contempt for failure to comply with the lawful Order directing the plaintiff to remove the padlock of the leased premises. (Oakridge) in an eviction suit filed by the latter against Atty. 2004. 2008]) 2. a tenant in one of its condominium units. Atty. Subsequently. who had refused to pay rentals and common expenses since August 15. Oakridge padlocked the leased premises. A. Alejandro after paying an injunctive bond. (RE: LETTER OF PRESIDING JUSTICE CONRADO M. Securities and Exchange Commission. Judge Reyes issued another order requiring Oakridge Properties through its counsel. Alejandro explained that his failure to pay rentals was justified since the air-conditioning unit which Oakridge provided in the leased premises was allegedly defective. Jose Bernas.

Nevertheless reviewing the charges on manifest partiality. However. refusal of Judge Reyes to calendar hearings. the OCA summarized the evidence which consists of cancellation of the hearings. the Court cannot conclude that respondent Judge was guilty of such misapplication of elementary court rules and procedure as to constitute gross ignorance of the law. A resolution of the Supreme Court requiring comment on an administrative complaint against officials and employees of the judiciary should not be construed as a mere request from the Court. the unseemly haste with which respondent Judge issued the Decision without waiting for complainant’s explanation to her show-cause order plainly prejudiced complainant and favored the other party. respondent Judge rendered a Decision which effectively disposed of the matter covered by the show cause order. This constitutes a blatant display of her disobedience to the lawful directives of the Court. After a close scrutiny of all the foregoing circumstances. taken together and measured against the high ethical standards set for members of the Judiciary.Less than 48 hours thereafter. Judges must not only render just. the acts of a judge in his official capacity do not always constitute misconduct although said acts may be erroneous. dishonesty or corruption. notwithstanding the fact that there was still a pre-scheduled hearing and several motions pending action from respondent Judge. impartiality and integrity. as well as the merits of the case itself. not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of his official duties renders him liable. disregard of the evidence favorable to Oakridge. Respondent Judge Reyes was ordered by OCA to file her comment but she failed to comply the Court's directive. As a matter of public policy. 2005. In the absence of fraud. inadequately or selectively. we agree with the findings of the OCA that the bases for this charge involve contentious issues which could properly be resolved through an appropriate appeal or other judicial remedies and not through the instant administrative action. Judge Julia Reyes’s disregard of the directive of this Court as embodied in its Resolution of June 14. Hence. WHETHER RESPONDENT JUDGE IS GUILTY OF GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW AND MANIFEST PARTIALITY With regard to the charge of gross ignorance of the law. the same circumstances. Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. rendering a decision which disposed of the case despite the pendency of unresolved incidents and undue haste in the issuance of succession orders. but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness. are clear indicators of manifest bias and partiality as well as grave abuse of authority on the part of respondent Judge. warrants . Indubitably. We now delve on the matter of penalties. Nor should it be complied with partially. delay in resolving the case. the instant complaint alleging that respondent Judge displayed gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality. and without waiting for the explanations from Oakridge. correct and impartial decisions.

00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20.00).000. JUDGE JULIA REYES. No. Moreover. JOSE A. 01-8-10-SC on September 11. MTC. this does not render the instant case moot. (ATTY.000. and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch of the government including governmentowned or controlled corporations. except accrued leave credits. 2001. or fined in the amount of more than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10. No. Unfortunately for respondent Judge. during the pendency of this case. and recommended that respondent Judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits. MTJ-09-1728. BRANCH 69. Her conduct in the premises constitutes less serious charges under Section 9. partiality. 2010). depending upon the circumstances in each case. BERNAS Vs. Respondent Judge must not be allowed to evade administrative liability by her previous dismissal from the service. respondent Judge was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits. However.M. for which a judge may be suspended from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months. July 21. A. if any.M.disciplinary sanction. . as well as grave abuse of authority. as amended by A. the OCA correctly found respondent Judge guilty of manifest bias. Rule 140 of the Rules of Court. PASIG CITY.