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PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES

On July 23, 1987, retired Justice J. B. L. Reyes entered his appearance for the
EN BANC accused, wherefore, on July 30, 1987, Judge Masadao issued an order
A.M. No. 87-9-3918-RTC October 26, 1987 inhibiting himself from further sitting in the case on the ground that retired
Justice J. B. L. Reyes had been among those who had recommended him to
QUERY OF EXECUTIVE JUDGE ESTRELLA T. ESTRADA, REGIONAL the Bench. Judge Masadao directed that the case be transmitted to Executive
TRIAL COURT OF MAIOLOS, BULACAN, ON TIHE CONFLICTING VIEWS Judge Estrena T. Estrada for re-raffling among the other branches of the court
OF REGIONAL TRIAL COURT — JUDGES MASADAO and ELIZAGA RE: for further proceedings.
CRIMINAL CASE NO. 4954-M
On August 6, 1987, a raffle was conducted and the case was assigned to
RESOLUTION Branch No. 10 of the Regional Trial Court of Bulacan, presided over by Judge
GUTIERREZ, JR., J.: Luciano G. Elizaga.

The issue before us brings to mind the words of Eugen Ehrlich, philosopher, On August 7, 1987, Judge Elizaga returned the records of the case with an
who stated: "There is no guaranty of justice except the personality of a judge." accompanying letter stating a refusal to act on the aforesaid motion for
(Ehrlich, "Freedom of Decision", The Science of Legal Method, 0 Mod. Leg. reconsideration and assailing the re-raffling of the case as impractical and
Philos, Ser. 65, 1917 trans. by Bruncken). Indeed, judicial integrity is the first uncalled for.
and highest qualification a judge must possess — integrity maintained
especially in cognizance of the limits ofman. In this wise, we cite the oft quoted On August 13, 1987, Judge Masadao replied by way of a second Indorsement
example of a judge voluntarily inhibiting himself so as to preserve the prized justifying his decision and standing pat on his order of inhibition, unless and
ideal of "the cold neutrality of an impartial judge" implicit in the guarantee of until overruled by judicial authorities of higher rank. Wherefore, Executive
due process (Mateo, Jr. v. Villaluz, 50 SCRA 18). Judge Estrada certified the matter to us.

Submitted for the consideration of this Court is the question of who shall Section 1, Rule 137 of the Revised Rules of Court embodies the rule on
resolve a motion for reconsideration filed against the decision of Judge Roy A. disqualification and inhibition of judges.
Masadao, Jr., after he had voluntarily inhibited himself from further sitting in
Criminal Case No. 4954-M of the Regional Trial Court of Bulacan, Branch 9, The rule on disqualification provides:
Malolos entitled "People of the Philippines v. Jaime Tadeo".
No judge or judicial off icer shall sit in any case in which he, or his wife or child,
The following facts gave rise to the present controversy: is pecuniarily interested as heir. legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in which he
is related to either party within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or
On May 4, 1987, Judge Roy A. Masadao, Jr., rendered a decision in the to counsel within the fourth degree, computed according to the rules of civil
aforementioned criminal case finding the accused guilty of the crime of estafa law, or in which he has been executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or
as follows: counsel, in which he has presided in any inferior court when his ruling or
decision is the subject of review, without written consent of an the parties in
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds accused JAIME TADEO interest, signed by them and entered upon the record (Par. 1, Sec. 1, Rule
guilty beyond reasonable doubt as principal of the crime of ESTAFA as 137, Revised Rules of Court).
charged in the Information and hereby sentences him to suffer an
indeterminate period of imprisonment of six (6) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY to On the other hand, where no grounds for disqualification as above enumerated
EIGHT (8) YEARS of prision mayor, as minimum, to TEN (10) YEARS and exist, as in the case at bar, the rule on inhibition provides:
ONE (1) DAY to TWELVE (12) YEARS of prision mayor, as maximum, and all
the accessory penalties provided by law, with costs de officio. (p. 10, Annex A judge may, in the exercise of his discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in
"A"). * a case, for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above (Par. 2,
Sec. 1, Rule 137, supra).
On July 11, 1987, counsel for the accused, Atty. Efren C. Moncupa, filed a

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motion for reconsideration which was submitted without arguments. The exercise of this discretion and the validity of the reasons for inhibition are

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now put in issue before us.
PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
It is clear from a reading of the law that intimacy or friendship between a judge for the factors that lead to preferences or predilections are many and varied."
and an attorney of record of one of the parties to a suit is no ground for (Mateo, Jr. v. Villaluz, 50 SCRA 18) Among these may be the Filipino "utang
disqualification. In Vda. de Bonifacio v. B.L.T. Bus Co., Inc. (34 SCRA 618, na loob".
631), we held that the fact "that one of the counsels in a case was a classmate
of the trial judge is not a legal ground for the disqualification of said judge. To Judge Masadao expounds on the matter thus: "For Filipinos, in particular, a
allow it would unnecessarily burden other trial judges to whom the case would sense of gratitude is one trait which invariably reigns supreme over any and
be transferred. Ultimately, confusion would result, for under a different rule, a all considerations in matters upon which such tender sentiment may somehow
judge would be barred from sitting in a case whenever one of his former inexorably impinge. Generally, whoever owes a debt of favor endeavors to
classmates (and he could have many) appeared." Likewise, the rule applies repay the same in any discernible fashion as soon as the opportunity therefore
when the lawyer of the defendant was a former associate of the judge, when energes."
he was practising law (Austria v. Masaquel, 20 SCRA 1247, 1255).
Judge Masadao is not necessarily stretching the Filipino "utang an loob" —
Judge Elizaga correctly commented on the dilemma with which his colleague gratitude which renders a man beholden to another, a sense of obligation
was faced: " ... this is one rare opportunity for the presiding Judge of RTC, which is valued as highly as pride and honor — beyond its proper limits. The
Branch 9 to show — (1) that Justice J.B.L. Reyes who recommended him to best way to show one's "utang na loob" to whoever recommended him is to do
the Bench did not err in so recommending him for his competence and known honor to the position, not only in rendering just, correct, and impartial decisions
probity; (2) that he has conducted himself with the cold impartiality of an but doing so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness and
impartial judge; and (3) that no one can sway his judgment whoever he may impartiality and as to the integrity of the judge. (See Martinez v. Gironella, 6
be." SCRA 245).

Indeed, as President Manuel L. Quezon had advised: "Once you are Judge Elizaga is correct in rhetorically asking — "In the remote possibility that
appointed, do not be influenced by the recommendations of your sponsor or a Motion for Reconsideration is filed in a case to every final order or decision
patron. for if you do, he will be the first to lose confidence in you" and former of a judge by one who recommended him to the bench, should he escape
Chief Justice Paras adds: ... that is good policy for our judges to remember" responsibility by inhibiting himself from any further action and pass the buck to
(Paras, Consent and Dissent, p. 38). other judges?" The answer is a categorical NO.- The judge should not evade
his responsibility.
However, where the relationship between the judge and an attorney for a party
is such that there would be a natural inclination to prejudice the case, the judge Inhibition is not allowed at every instance that a friend, classmate, associate
should be disqualified in order to guarantee a fair trial (State Ex. Rel. Tumer v. or patron of a presiding judge appears before him as counsel for one of the
Marshall, 176 N.E. 454, 123 Ohio St., 586). parties to a case. "Utang na loob", per se, should not be a hindrance to the
administration of justice. Nor should recognition of such value in Philippine
A judge should strive to be at all times wholly free, disinterested, impartial, and society prevent the performance of one's duties as judge. However, where, as
independent. Elementary due process requires a hearing before an impartial in this case, the judge admits that he may be suspected of surrendering to the
and disinterested tribunal. A judge has both the duty of rendering a just persuasions of utang na loob or he may even succumb to it considering that
decision and the duty of doing it in a manner completely free from suspicion he "and the members of his family, no less, shall ever remain obliged in eternal
as to its fairness and as to his integrity (Geotina v. Gonzales, 41 SCRA 73- gratitude to Justice Reyes", the negative answer to the question of judge
74). Elizaga yields to exceptions in extraordinary cases.

However, men of the Bench are not without imperfections. A judge too, The circumstances before Judge Masadao are not ordinary ones. Justice
experiences the "tug and pull of purely personal preferences and prejudices J.B.L. Reyes, one of the most distinguished legal scholars of our country and
which he shares with the rest of his fellow mortals" (Azucena v. Munoz, 33 a towering paragon (to use the words of Judge Masadao), highly respected
SCRA 722, 723). The second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Revised during his stints in the Office of the Solicitor General, Court of Appeals, and
Rules of Court "made clear to the occupants of the Bench that outside of Supreme Court and through his post-retirement life, is no ordinary sponsor.
pecuniary interest, relationship or previous participation in the matter that calls The accused is an activist leader of peasant and farmer groups involved in

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for adjudication, there may be other causes that could conceivably erode the rather controversial confrontations. Compelled to act in this case, Judge

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trait of objectivity, thus calling for inhibition. That is to betray a sense of realism, Masadao may be inclined to rule against his sponsor to demonstrate
PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
independence, Either way, the resulting impressions would not be salutary to mandamus to compel him to act, However, as much as possible, the judge to
the judicial system. whom a case is transferred should not resist too much the order of recusation
unless the motives for inhibition are suspect. The prerogative more properly
We apply the guideline expressed in Pimentel v. Salanga (21 SCRA 160, 167- pertains to the parties to a suit whose rights are directly affected thereby, To
168): accommodate every objection which a judge, to whom a case is transferred,
may have, after the voluntary inhibition of a presiding judge, would not only
xxx xxx xxx disrupt administrative procedures of courts but would likewise entail further
delay ;n the final resolution of cases. Internal wranglings between judges
... A judge may not be legally prohibited from sitting in a litigation, this when questioning each other's motivations should be avoided.
suggestion is made of record that he might be induced to act in favor of one
party or with bias or prejudice against a litigant arising out of circumstances We are not unmindful though of the burdens that may be imposed on other
reasonably capable of inciting such a state of mind, he, should conduct a trial judges to whom such caws may be reassigned. Judge Elizaga's objections
careful self-examination. He .shuold exercise his discretion in a way that the are not without their own merits. In certain cases, inhibition could amount to
people's faith in the courts of justice is not impaired. A salutary norm is that he judges being recreant to their trust. However, even with all such considerations
reflect on ,he probability that a losing party might nurture at the back of his in mind, there is still cogency in the approach that would look with favor in the
mnd the thought that the judge had unmeritoriously, tilted the scales of Justice exercise of discretion in favor of disqualification, given the likelihood that bias
against him. That passion on the part of a judge may he ge-nerated because or prejudice is unavoidable (Palang v. Zosa, 58 SCRA 776). The dictates of
of serious charges of misconduct against him by a suitor or his counsel. is not the due process guarantee of a fair and impartial tribunal override these
altogether remote. He is a man, subject to the frailties of other men. He should, concerns.
therefore, exercise great care and caution before making up his mind to act or
withdraw from asuit where that party or counsel is involved. He could in good Judge Masadao's actuations are within the terms of Paragraph 2, Section 1,
grace inhibit himself where that case could be heard by another judge and Rule 137 of the Revised Rules of Court. The records do not indicate any
where no appreciable prejudice would be occasioned to others involved improper exercise of a prerogative conferred on him by law. And, absent any
thereon. On the result of his decisions to sit or not to sit may depend to a great abuse of discretion or manifest error, we hesitate to reverse his decision
extent that all-important confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. If after holding himself disqualified. Nor will the wisdom of such inhibition be delved
reflection he should resolve to voluntarily desist from sitting in a case where into where the reasons therefor are concededly subjective. We also suggest
his motives or fairness might be seriously impugned, his action is to be that judges of equal standing should be reticent in passing judgment upon a
interpreted as giving meaning and substance to the second paragraph of matter of discretion and in refusing to act on cases referred to them on account
Section 1, Rule 137. He serves the cause of the law who forestalls miscarriage of such discretion.
of justice.
WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, Judge Roy A. Masadao, Jr.'s
We repeat. There are certain circumstances when a case could well be heard order of voluntary inhibition in an further proceedings in Criminal Case No.
by another judge and no appreciable prejudice would be occasioned to others 4954-M of the Regional Trial Court of Bulacan, Branch 9, is hereby upheld.
involved therein, where a voluntary inhibition may prove to be the better course Judge Luciano G. Elizaga is hereby ordered to take cognizance of the said
of action. case as re-raffled to his sala.

In that case, his fellow judges should be ready to help preserve the reality and SO ORDERED.
the appearance of an impartial administration of justice.

The administrative matter before us differs from most petitions involving a


judge's disqualification. here, a judge voluntarily inhibits himself and, instead
of a party or both parties filing a motion on the matter, it is another judge who
insists that he continue with the case.

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A judge's decision to refuse to act on account of some disqualification is not

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conclusive, and his competency may be determined on an application for
PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
them, under the pain of contempt, to secure the services of a lawyer to
A.M. No. RTJ-04-1823 represent them.
ARCELY Y. SANTOS, - versus - JUDGE UBALDINO A. LACUROM,
Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Cabanatuan City, Branch 29 and 2. Respondent judge always granted, with dispatch, all the pleadings of
Pairing Judge, Branch 30, Santos.
August 28, 2006
x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x 3. Respondent judge had unduly delayed the execution of the 28 April 2000
RESOLUTION Court of Appeals decision against Santos in Cadastral Case No. 384-AF.
CARPIO, J.:
4. Respondent judge denied complainants letter-request[8] dated 16 March
The Case 2001 for respondent judge to inhibit himself from the cases to avoid suspicion
This is an administrative complaint filed by Arcely Y. Santos (complainant) of bias, prejudice, conflict of interest and partiality. Complainant alleged that
against Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, respondent judge used his office to advance and protect the interests of
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cabanatuan City, Branch 29 and Pairing Judge, Santos, respondent judges close friend, to the prejudice of complainant and in
Branch 30. Complainant charged respondent judge with gross misconduct, violation of Canon 2[9] of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code).
grave abuse of judicial authority, gross bias and partiality, and gross violation
of the Code of Judicial Ethics. Complainant pointed out that in an earlier case[10] respondent judge inhibited
himself because Santos is respondent judges close friend.[11]
The Facts
The complaint stemmed from respondent judges alleged bias and partiality in Complainant also added that respondent judge refused to inhibit himself
favor of one Rogelio R. Santos, Sr. (Santos), who had three pending cases[1] because he was protecting his interest in Villa Benita Subdivision
before respondent judges sala, as shown by the following: (subdivision). Complainant explained that all three cases involved properties
in the subdivision[12] and that respondent judge is an incorporator,[13] a
1. Respondent judge allowed Santos, a non-lawyer, to appear in court and director, an officer and a legal adviser[14] of Villa Benita Homeowners
litigate personally the three cases. Complainant pointed out that Santos was Association (VBHA). VBHA allegedly filed several cases before the Housing
already represented by counsels[2] who have not withdrawn their and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) against Faberns Inc. and
appearances. Complainant alleged that respondent judge is guilty of gross complainant. Complainant asserted that respondent judge had personal
misconduct and grave abuse of judicial discretion for having allowed a non- knowledge of the facts of the HLURB cases. Complainant added that in
lawyer to engage in the practice law. refusing to inhibit himself, respondent judge violated Rule 3.12 (a)[15] and
Canon 5[16] of the Code.
In Special Proceedings Case No. 516-AF, respondent judge, in an Order[3]
dated 28 February 2003, even appointed Santos as lead counsel for the In its 1st Indorsement dated 15 May 2003, the Office of the Court Administrator
petitioners. As early as 26 September 2002, complainant had been (OCA) required respondent judge to comment on complainants allegations
questioning the appearance of Santos as counsel during the proceedings in and to show cause why he should not be sanctioned as a member of the Bar
court.[4] On 11 November 2002, complainant filed a motion to expunge a for violation of Canon 9, Rule 9.01[17] of the Code of Professional
pleading signed by Santos, claiming that Santos, a non-lawyer, is not allowed Responsibility.
to sign pleadings.[5] In a Joint Resolution dated 7 February 2003, respondent
judge denied complainants motion and stated that Santos is qualified to In an Answer dated 27 June 2003, respondent judge offered the following
conduct his litigation personally.[6] Then on 20 February 2003, complainant explanations:
filed a motion to reconsider the Joint Resolution and suggested that, since
Santos is now representing himself and, at the same time, is being represented 1. Respondent judge, citing Section 34, Rule 138[18] of the Rules of Court
by counsel, respondent judge should appoint a member of the Bar as lead (Rules), admitted that he allowed Santos to litigate personally his cases before
counsel.[7] the court.

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On the other hand, complainant alleged that she and the other oppositors were

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not allowed to address the court directly and respondent judge even compelled
PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
On Special Proceedings Case No. 516-AF, respondent judge explained that of VBHA to lend a bit of prestige to the association. However, respondent judge
he merely recognized Santos as lead counsel because his counsel was often stated that his only participation in VBHA was to sign the registration
absent from the proceedings.[19] Respondent judge added that complainants documents of VBHA. Respondent judge clarified that he never attended any
counsel did not object to the appointment of Santos as lead counsel, but of the meetings of VBHA, nor has he any knowledge of any case filed by VBHA
merely suggested that lead counsel should be a member of the Bar. before the HLURB.
Respondent judge also added that, if complainant did not agree with
respondent judges decision on the matter, complainant should have filed a Respondent judge also stated that if complainant filed the proper motion for
petition for certiorari. inhibition, he would have granted the same.

Respondent judge also explained that complainant was allowed to address the The OCAs Report and Recommendation
court directly, though not at length because complainant was represented by
counsel. In its Report dated 21 November 2003, the OCA recommended that the
complaint be re-docketed as an administrative matter and that respondent
2. Respondent judge denied that he always granted the pleadings of Santos. judge be fined P5,000. The OCA found respondent judge administratively
liable for recognizing Santos as lead counsel despite the fact that Santos had
3. Respondent judge denied that the Court of Appeals decision in Cadastral two counsels of record. The OCA did not find respondent judge liable for the
Case No. 384-AF has remained unenforced because of his bias in favor of delay in the execution of the decision of the Court of Appeals in Cadastral
Santos. Respondent judge stated that he had ordered the implementation of Case No. 384-AF, as the delay was brought about by the parties themselves.
the decision as early as 25 September 2000[20] and issued a writ of execution On respondent judge being an incorporator and adviser of VBHA and his
on 25 October 2002.[21] refusal to inhibit himself from the cases, the OCA opined that the subject cases
are not covered by the rule on mandatory disqualification of judges, hence,
4. Respondent judged stated that he denied complainants request to inhibit respondent judges inhibition rested upon his own discretion.
himself because he can fairly hear and decide the cases.
In a Resolution dated 21 January 2004, the Court resolved to docket the case
On respondent judges inhibition in Civil Case No. 3074-AF, respondent judge as a regular administrative matter and required the parties to manifest within
explained that he inhibited himself from the case because Santos was his ten days from notice if they were willing to submit the case for resolution based
close friend, while respondents were not respondent judges friends. In these on the pleadings on record. Respondent judge manifested affirmatively.
cases, respondent judge pointed out that he was friends with both Santos and Complainant filed a memorandum dated 9 August 2004 reiterating her
the other parties[22] to the cases, in effect, neutralizing respondent judges allegations. In turn, respondent judge also submitted a memorandum on 21
close friendship with Santos. August 2004.

Respondent judge explained that Santos became a close friend when Santos Complainant filed the present administrative complaint on 5 May 2003 when
lent his portable bunker to Dr. Ferdinand Lacurom (Dr. Lacurom), respondent respondent judge was still presiding judge of Branch 29 and pairing judge of
judges son, during the construction of Dr. Lacuroms house in the subdivision. Branch 30. Respondent judge compulsorily retired on 16 May 2003. However,
Respondent judge also admitted that the officers of Faberns Inc. extended a his retirement does not render this administrative case moot.[25]
favor to Dr. Lacurom when they facilitated the cementing of the road in front of
Dr. Lacuroms house.[23] However, respondent judge denied that he received The Courts Ruling
any favor from Santos. In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving by
substantial evidence the allegations in the complaint.[26] In this case,
On the matter of VBHA, respondent judge denied that he had any interest to complainant failed to prove that respondent judge granted with dispatch all the
protect in the subdivision, as respondent judge is not a landowner, or pleadings of Santos and that respondent judge was responsible for the delay
homeowner, or lessee in the subdivision. Respondent judge clarified that Dr. in the execution of the Court of Appeals decision in Cadastral Case No. 384-
Lacurom is the one who owns property in the subdivision and that respondent AF. Hence, the Court dismisses this particular charge.
judge stayed there only on some occasions. Respondent judge admitted that

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he is a nominal incorporator and adviser of VBHA.[24] Atty. Napoleon Reyes,

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president of VBHA, requested respondent judge to agree to be an incorporator
PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
On a Partys Right to Self Representation On Respondent Judges Inhibition
The Rules recognize the right of an individual to represent himself in any case The Court agrees with the OCAs finding that respondent judges inhibition from
in which he is a party. The Rules state that a party may conduct his litigation the cases was discretionary. The three cases do not fall under the instances
personally or by aid of an attorney, and that his appearance must be either covered by the rule on the mandatory disqualification of judges[33] and the
personal or by a duly authorized member of the Bar.[27] The individual litigant issue of voluntary inhibition is primarily a matter of conscience and sound
may personally do everything in the progress of the action from discretion on the part of the judge.[34]
commencement to the termination of the litigation.[28] A partys representation
on his own behalf is not considered to be a practice of law as one does not Besides, complainant did not follow the proper procedure for the
practice law by acting for himself, any more than he practices medicine by disqualification of judges. In Constante v. Pimentel,[35] the Court ruled that
rendering first aid to himself.[29] the procedure for disqualification of judges in Section 2, Rule 137[36] must be
substantially followed.
Therefore, Santos can conduct the litigation of the cases personally. Santos is
not engaged in the practice of law if he represents himself in cases in which On Respondent Judges Violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct
he is a party. By conducting the litigation of his own cases, Santos acts not as
a counsel or lawyer but as a party exercising his right to represent himself. On respondent judges admission that Dr. Lacurom received a favor from the
Certainly, Santos does not become a counsel or lawyer by exercising such officers of Faberns Inc., respondent judge violated Rule 5.04[37] of the Code.
right. Faberns Inc. is the petitioner in Cadastral Case No. 384-AF, which was then
pending before respondent judges sala. Respondent judge should have
The Court, however, notes the use of the disjunctive word or under the Rules, advised Dr. Lacurom not to accept any favor from Faberns Inc. or from any of
signifying disassociation and independence of one thing from each of the other its officers[38] or principal stockholders. Judges, as occupants of exalted
things enumerated,[30] to mean that a party must choose between self- positions in the administration of justice, must pay a high price for the honor
representation or being represented by a member of the bar. During the course bestowed on them.[39] Their private, as well as their official conduct, must
of the proceedings, a party should not be allowed to shift from one form of always be free from the appearance of impropriety.[40]
representation to another. Otherwise, this would lead to confusion, not only for
the other party, but for the court as well. If a party, originally represented by On respondent judges close friendship with Santos, such fact did not render
counsel, would later decide to represent himself, the prudent course of action respondent judge guilty of violating any canon of judicial ethics as long as his
is to dispense with the services of counsel and prosecute or defend the case friendly relations with Santos did not influence his official conduct as a judge
personally.[31] in the cases where Santos was a party.[41] Complainant failed to present any
convincing proof that respondent judge gave any undue privileges in his court
For the orderly administration of justice, respondent judge should not have to Santos, or that Santos benefited from his personal relations with respondent
allowed Santos to litigate personally because Santos was already represented judge, or that respondent judge used his influence, if any, to favor Santos.
by counsel. Respondent judge should have required Santos to choose
between self-representation or being represented by counsel. However, it would have been more prudent if respondent judge avoided
hearing the cases where Santos was a party because their close friendship
Moreover, respondent judge should not have recognized Santos as lead could reasonably tend to raise suspicion that respondent judges social
counsel. The lead counsel is the lawyer on either side of a litigated action who relationship with Santos would be an element in his determination of the cases
is charged with the principal management and direction of the partys case, as of Santos.[42] This may erode the trust of the litigants in respondent judges
distinguished from his collaborating counsels or subordinates.[32] In impartiality and eventually, undermine the peoples faith in the administration
recognizing Santos as lead counsel, respondent judge made it appear that of justice.[43] Judges must not only render a just, correct and impartial decision
Santos was a counsel or lawyer when he is not. To repeat, when a party but should do so in such a manner as to be free from any suspicion as to his
represents himself in his own case, he does so not as a counsel or lawyer but fairness, impartiality and integrity.[44]
as a party exercising his right of self-representation.
On the Appropriate Penalty Against Respondent Judge

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PROBLEM AREAS IN LEGAL ETHICS – RULE 137 CASES
Respondent judges actuations constitute simple misconduct, a less serious
charge punishable with (a) suspension from office without salary and other
benefits for a period of not less than one month but not more than three
months; or (b) fine of more than P10,000 but not exceeding P20,000.[45]
However, considering that respondent judge had retired compulsorily on 16
May 2003 after twenty-eight years of service in the government and that this
is respondent judges first offense, the P10,000 withheld from his retirement
benefits[46] should be forfeited as sufficient penalty for his administrative
offense.[47]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom


GUILTY of simple misconduct and ORDERS the FORFEITURE of the P10,000
withheld from his retirement benefits.

SO ORDERED.

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