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Line between liberty and license

Lawyers may be duty bound to protect and advance their clients’ cause but they are not permitted to “cross the line between liberty and license; they must always keep in perspective that since they are administrators of justice and oath bound servants of society, their first duty is not to their clients, as many suppose, but to the administration of justice”. This is the principle in this case of Attys. Lino and Lina, husband and wife and also partners in their law firm.

Lino and Lina were the counsel of a former Congressman (JPB) who filed a complaint against the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer and his wife, the Senior Agrarian Reform Technologist (accused) for violation of the Anti-Graft Law (R.A. 3019) and Falsification of Public Document. After the Ombudsman filed the case in Court presided by Judge AS, the accused were suspended pending hearings of the case, upon motion of the Ombudsman.

At the pre-trial conference on June 16, 2003, Judge AS asked counsels to approach the bench to save Lino from embarrassment after he could not answer the Judge’s queries on the civil aspects of the case and seemed to be unprepared. Then on November 3, 2003 during which Lina appeared as Private Prosecutor for the complainant, Judge AS asked Lina to reveal the names of her witnesses because she wanted no surprises but Lina replied that she would still have to ask their client JPB whether he would like to testify. This prompted Judge AS to admonish her to be prepared and to ask her client prior to the pre-trial whether he would want to testify. Lina then explained that she was only substituting for her husband who was supposedly not feeling well. She thus asked for postponement promising that she will tell her husband to be prepared next time.

The next hearing on December 16, 2003 was however again reset to January 8, 2004 because Lino and Lina were not ready with their witness. But Judge AS warned that she will already dismiss the cases with prejudice if no witness would be presented by the prosecution even without any motion from the counsel for the accused.

Eventually Judge AS dismissed the charges against the accused on a demurrer to evidence filed by their counsel in an order dated September 10, 2004.

Lino and Lina then reported to their client JPB the developments in the courtroom. They told him that from the very start Judge AS was pressuring Lino to convince JPB and his family to settle the cases. At the pre-trial, Judge AS would like to fast track the cases. They said that Judge AS showed bias, concern, sympathy and inclination in favor of the accused particularly when she issued that order dismissing the charges despite the fact that they were able to prove by testimonial and documentary evidence the irregularities committed by the accused.

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So JPB filed an administrative complaint against Judge AS on November 13, 2004 charging her with partiality, gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct in handling the criminal cases filed against the accused. Then a special civil action for certiorari was also filed with the Court of Appeals questioning said order of Judge AS dismissing the criminal cases.

In reply, Judge AS denied the charges. She claimed that the complaint was a tale of lies and distortions woven by Lino and Lina to cover up their shortcomings as lawyers handling the case for their client. She then asked that Lino and Lina be sanctioned as members of the bar. In the meantime, the administrative complaint against her was provisionally dismissed for being pre mature in view of the pending petition in the CA questioning her dismissal of the criminal case raising the same issues.

After the CA affirmed the order of Judge AS dated September 10, 2004 dismissing the criminal case, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) finally dismissed the said complaint against Judge AS. At the same time it ordered that Lino and Lina be administratively sanctioned for providing wrong information to their client JPB regarding the proceedings before Judge AS. Was the OCA correct?

Yes. Lino and Lina crossed the line of accepted and protected conduct in providing untruthful information to their client JPB that led to the filing by the latter of the administrative complaint against Judge AS. The two lawyers made it appear in their report to their client that Judge AS unduly made it difficult for them to prosecute the criminal cases and exhibited bias and partiality. The information they supplied their client were patently misleading and slanted to cover up their shortcomings as lawyers. The administrative complaint against Judge AS was most unfair as she was simply keeping faith with her avowed objective of expediting the proceedings in her court by, among other measures, requiring all lawyers to be prepared at all times and to be fair and candid in their dealings in court.

As lawyers, Lino and Lina are officers of the court with the duty to uphold its dignity and authority and not promote distrust in the administration of justice. They are required to act with the highest standard of truthfulness, fair play and nobility in the conduct of their litigation and their relations with their clients, the opposing parties, the other counsel and the courts. So Lino and Lina are guilty of indirect contempt for violating A.M. 03-10-01 SC and should be fined P2,500 each with stern warning that a commission of the same offense will be dealt with more severely (Bondoc vs. Aquino-Simbulan, AM RTJ-09-2204, October 28, 2009, 604 SCRA 416).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call Tel. 7249445.

E-mail at: jcson@pldtdsl.net

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