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Respondent Palma was employed by petitioner Cojuangco, Jr. as his personal
counsel. Since respondent gained the trust of petitioner and his family, their
relationship became intimate. Respondent then was allowed to tutor the 22 year old
daughter of petitioner, Maria Luisa Cojuangco (Lisa).
Without the knowledge of complainants family, respondent married Lisa in
Hongkong. It was only the next day that respondent informed complainant and
assured him that "everything is legal." Complainant was shocked, knowing fully well
that respondent is a married man and has three children. Upon investigation,
complainant found that respondent courted Lisa during their tutoring sessions.
CFI: Complainant filed a petition for declaration of nullity of the marriage between
respondent and Lisa. CFI declared the marriage null and void ab initio.
Cojuangco, Jr. filed with the SC instant complaint for disbarment against Palma,
alleging as grounds "deceit, malpractice, gross misconduct in office, violation of his
oath as a lawyer and grossly immoral conduct.
Respondent argued that, he cannot be punished since there is no allegation that he
acted with wanton recklessness, lack of skill or ignorance of the law in
serving complainants interest.
WON respondent's acts constitutes gross immoral conduct so as to warrant his
disbarment from the legal profession.
Yes. The law profession does not prescribe a dichotomy of standards among its
members. There is no distinction as to whether the transgression is committed in
the lawyers professional capacity or in his private life. This is because a lawyer may
not divide his personality so as to be an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at
another. Thus, not only his professional activities but even his private life, insofar as
the latter may reflect unfavorably upon the good name and prestige of the
profession and the courts, may at any time be the subject of inquiry on the part of
the proper authorities.
Professional competency alone does not make a lawyer a worthy member of the
Bar. Good moral character is always an indispensable requirement.
Undoubtedly, respondents act constitutes grossly immoral conduct, a ground for
disbarment under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court. He exhibited a
deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of him as a member of the Bar. In
particular, he made a mockery of marriage which is a sacred institution demanding
respect and dignity. His act of contracting a second marriage is contrary to honesty,
justice, decency and morality.
We have somehow come up with a common definition of what constitutes immoral
conduct, i.e., "that conduct which is willful, flagrant, or shameless, and which shows
a moral indifference to the opinion of the good and respectable members of the
community."24 Measured against this definition, respondents act is manifestly
immoral. First, he abandoned his lawful wife and three children. Second, he lured an
innocent young woman into marrying him. And third, he misrepresented himself as
a "bachelor" so he could contract marriage in a foreign land.
A subsequent judgment of annulment of marriage has no bearing to the instant
disbarment proceeding. As we held in In re Almacen, a disbarment case is sui
generis for it is neither purely civil nor purely criminal but is rather an investigation
by the court into the conduct of its officers. Thus, if the acquittal of a lawyer in a
criminal action is not determinative of an administrative case against him, or if an
affidavit of withdrawal of a disbarment case does not affect its course, then the
judgment of annulment of respondents marriage does not also exonerate him from
a wrongdoing actually committed. So long as the quantum of proof --- clear
preponderance of evidence --- in disciplinary proceedings against members of the
bar is met, then liability attaches.
The interdict upon lawyers, as inscribed in Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility, is that they "shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or
deceitful conduct." This is founded on the lawyers primordial duty to society as
spelled out in Canon 1 which states:
"CANON 1 A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land
and promote respect for law and legal processes."
Corollarily, the above responsibility is enshrined in the Attorneys Oath which every
lawyer in the country has to take before he is allowed to practice.
In sum, respondent committed grossly immoral conduct and violation of his oath as
a lawyer. The penalty of one (1) year suspension recommended by the IBP is not
commensurate to the gravity of his offense.
WHEREFORE, respondent Leo J. Palma is found GUILTY of grossly immoral conduct
and violation of his oath as a lawyer, and is hereby DISBARRED from the practice of