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A Survey of Pertinent Cases in Legal Ethics

by: Prof. Erickson H. Balmes
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 Ramons
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 Ramons 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 Sevillas 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.
There is a well-grounded reason to believe that Atty. Singson indeed attempted to
influence Judge Reyes decide a case in favor of Atty. Singsons 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.

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

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. The motion was granted.
Meanwhile, Atty. Elamparo "received a telephone call from somebody who did not
identify herself but (who) said that she had important information regarding the
Meralco case." The unidentified caller told Atty. Elamparo that "a TRO was already
being prepared and that certain Meralco lawyers had in fact been talking to Justice
Likewise, Justice Sabio received a telephone call in his chambers from his older
brother, Chairman Camilo Sabio (Chairman Sabio) of the Presidential Commission on
Good Government (PCGG) and a certain Mr De Borja. 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. Justice Sabio was surprised as he
had not yet been "officially informed" about the matter. Chairman Sabio likewise
informed him that a TRO had been prepared. Chairman Sabio then tried to convince
Justice Sabio "of the rightness of the stand of the GSIS and the SEC," and asked his
brother to help the GSIS, which "represents the interest of the poor people." 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," at which the respondents "must be able to
convince" him that the TRO indeed had no legal basis.
Thereafter, Justice Jose Sabio Jr. (Justice Sabio) was assigned as Acting Chairman of
the Ninth Division by raffle.
Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Sabio, for the latters signature, the
TRO which he had prepared, already signed by himself and Justice Dimaranan-Vidal.
Convinced of the urgency of the TRO, Justice Sabio signed it on condition that the
case will be set for oral arguments.
Thus, the Special Ninth Division composed of Justices Sabio, Roxas and DimarananVidal, 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, with the petitioners given five
days from receipt of that comment within which to file their reply. It also set the
hearing for the application for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction.
Justice Reyes came back from his leave and a question arose as to who should have
the records of the case, is it Justice Sabio (Acting Chairman of 9th Division) or
Justice Reyes. Justice Sabio insisted that the rollo should be with him.
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
responded that the issuance of a TRO is not among the instances where the
Justices who participated in the case shall remain therein." Hence, Justice Cruz
opined that "notwithstanding the issuance of the TRO (not writ of preliminary
injunction), the case reverted to the regular Chairman (Justice Reyes) of the Ninth
Division upon his return."

Justice Sabio, in turn, 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." But before Presiding Justice Vasquez was able to resolve the matter,
Justice Reyes went ahead with Justice Roxas and decided on who should be the
chairman over the said case.
Subsequently, Mr. De Borja again called up Justice Sabio, seeking to meet with him
for an "important" matter. Mr. De Borja intended to influence Justice Sabio to side
with Meralco. At that time, Mr. De Borja was carrying a "sealed" brown paper bag,
which he was handling "as if something important" was inside. However, Justice
Sabio did not know if the bag contained P10 million. De Borja, however denied such
allegations and countered instead that it was Justice Sabio who solicited P50 Million
from him.
On July 4, 2008, the reorganization of the Court of Appeals became effective and
brought Justices Reyes, Roxas and Bruselas to the Eighth Division. Justice Reyes
went to see the Presiding Justice about the urgent motion for him to assume the
chairmanship of the Division.
Meanwhile, Justice Roxas brought to the office of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal "the final
decision on the MERALCO case" bearing his signature, which he gave to Justice
Dimaranan-Vidal for "concurrence/dissent." According to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal,
Justice Roxas explained to her the "rationale for his conclusion." Justice Roxas went
out for a while and returned "with an expensive looking travelling bag" from where
he pulled out the "purported final decision." Before the close of office hours, Justice
Roxas returned to the chambers of Justice Dimaranan-Vidal to check if he (Justice
Roxas) had signed his decision. When she replied that yes, he had signed it, 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 Dimaranan-Vidal signed it. True to his word, Justice Roxas personally
picked up the decision that day "purportedly for the action of the Acting Chairman,
Justice Sabio," who was then on leave of absence.
Justice Roxas, 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, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently,
fairly and with reasonable promptness." Thus, 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. Moreover, Justice Roxas is guilty of gross dishonesty.
The so-called "transcript" is a fabrication designed to deceive that there had been
compliance - when actually there was none -- with the prerequisite of the IRCA that
consultation and/or deliberation among the members of the Division must precede
the drafting of a decision. His testimony that when he brought the Meralco decision

to Justice Dimaranan-Vidal on July 8, 2008, it was only a draft for her to read,
because she asked if she may read it, not for her to sign it, is completely false.
Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, dishonesty is considered a serious offense
that may warrant the penalty of dismissal from the service.
Moreover, Justice Roxas showed a lack of courtesy and respect for his colleagues in
the Court of Appeals. Lastly, Justice Roxas questionable handling of the Meralco
case demonstrates his undue interest therein. 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, 2008. His "rush to judgment" was
indicative of "undue interest and unseemly haste
Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas is found guilty of multiple violations of the canons
of the Code of Judicial Conduct, grave misconduct, dishonesty, undue interest and
conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and is DISMISSED from the
service, with FORFEITURE of all benefits, except accrued leave credits if any, with
prejudice to his reemployment in any branch or service of the government including
government-owned and controlled corporations Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, Jr.,
on the other hand, 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,
with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more
severe penalty.
Justice Sabio Jr.s action of discussing the Meralco case with De Borja was highly
inappropriate and indiscreet. He ignored the injunction in Canon 1, 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."
Indeed, the Court agrees with the Panel that the allegation of solicitation on the part
of Justice Sabio is not credible. Nevertheless, the continued communications
between Justice Sabio and Mr. De Borja even after the latters 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.
As for Justice Reyes, he is found guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating
circumstance and is REPRIMANDED, with a stern warning that a repetition of the
same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.
It bears repeating here that under Canon 5, 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. Justice Reyes is guilty of simple misconduct,
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. However,
Justice Reyes should be reprimanded for taking part in the decision of the subject
case without awaiting the ruling of the Presiding Justice.

Justice Dimaranan-Vidal, on the other hand, 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. She deviated from the IRCA when she allowed
herself to be rushed by Justice Roxas to sign the Meralco decision on July 8, 2008,
without reading the parties memoranda and without the deliberation among
members of the Division required by the IRCA. She violated Sections 1 and 2 of
Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. 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. (RE: LETTER OF PRESIDING JUSTICE
CONRADO M. VASQUEZ, JR. ON CA-G.R. SP NO. 103692 [Antonio Rosete, et
al. v. Securities and Exchange Commission, et al., A.M. No. 08-8-11-CA,
September 9, 2008])
2. Atty. Jose Bernas, 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
The facts state that herein complainant was the counsel for Oakridge Properties,
Inc. (Oakridge) in an eviction suit filed by the latter against Atty. Joseph M.
Alejandro, a tenant in one of its condominium units, who had refused to pay rentals
and common expenses since August 15, 2001. For his part, Atty. 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.
On June 1, 2004, and during the pendency of the eviction suit, Oakridge padlocked
the leased premises, alleging that it was authorized to do so by the terms and
conditions of the Contract of Lease. Atty. Alejandro then filed a Petition for Writ of
Preliminary Injunction with prayer for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to have
the unit reopened. This was heard on June 11, 2004. At the hearing, 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, 2004. She
also set the pre-trial or preliminary conference hearing on June 22, 2004.
Then respondent Judge issued several Orders which are the bases for the instant
complaint against respondent Judge. First, Judge Reyes approved the TRO filed by
Atty. Alejandro after paying an injunctive bond. Accordingly, 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.
Subsequently, Judge Reyes issued another order requiring Oakridge Properties
through its counsel, Atty. Bernas, 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

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

disciplinary sanction. Her conduct in the premises constitutes less serious charges
under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC
on September 11, 2001, 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,
or fined in the amount of more than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not
exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00), depending upon the circumstances
in each case. Moreover, the OCA correctly found respondent Judge guilty of manifest
bias, partiality, as well as grave abuse of authority, and recommended that
respondent Judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits,
except accrued leave credits. However, during the pendency of this case,
respondent Judge was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with
forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with
prejudice to reemployment in any branch of the government including governmentowned or controlled corporations.
Unfortunately for respondent Judge, this does not render the instant case moot.
Respondent Judge must not be allowed to evade administrative liability by her
previous dismissal from the service. (ATTY. JOSE A. BERNAS Vs. JUDGE JULIA
REYES, MTC, BRANCH 69, PASIG CITY, A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728, July 21,