Gross immorality
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 5, 2019 - 12:00am

Lawyers must conform to the highest standards of morality. They should not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on their fitness to practice law, nor should they behave scandalously to the discredit of the legal profession whether in public or private life (Canons of Professional Responsibility, Rule 1.01 and 7.03). What constitutes immorality? Is abandonment of the spouse in order to live and cohabit with another sufficient ground to disbar a lawyer? These are the questions answered in this case between Greg and his wife Linda.

Greg and Linda are husband and wife with two children, Cherry and Andy. Linda is a businesswoman while Greg is a lawyer who works in the government.  After being married for almost 20 years Linda found out that Greg had already left them taking along with him his car and personal belongings. She learned from Greg’s staff at City Hall that Greg was carrying on an extramarital affair with a married woman named Liza at an address given to her by the staff. So the next day, Linda and her daughter Cherry and a nephew, went to said address but Liza’s sister told them that Liza and Greg had already transferred to another subdivision. So that same evening, they went to the subdivision where they found and confronted Greg, who simply denied having committed any wrong doing. Despite Linda’s pleas to avoid displaying his paramour in public, Greg still continued with the illicit relationship.

So, after Linda further confirmed Greg’s illicit relationship with Liza from a person living in the same subdivision and from a private investigator she hired to conduct a surveillance of Greg’s activities, she already filed a complaint for immorality against Greg before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB). She also sent a letter to the Office of the President which forwarded it to the Office of the Bar Confidant of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

In support of her complaint, she submitted the affidavits of Cherry as well as the resident of the subdivision and the Private Detective who conducted a surveillance proving that Greg is really cohabiting with Liza. His car was seen parked in the house where Liza resided and he was always seen inside the house talking to Liza sometimes even without his shirt on.

In his comment, Greg denied having engaged in immoral conduct and maintained that Liza had only been his business partner. In fact, he said that there is no photograph at all showing him and Liza together. He also said that Linda’s behavior had become unbearable so he left their family home and moved in with his parents.

In the meantime, the OMB issued its decision finding Greg guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct in violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. It suspended Greg from government service for a period of six months. This ruling was affirmed by the CA.

On the other hand however, the IBP Board of Governors dismissed Linda’s administrative complaint, declaring that Greg is not guilty of immorality in his relationship with Liza as recommended by the IBP investigating commissioner who found no sufficient evidence showing that Greg’s conduct is grossly immoral and so corrupt as to constitute a criminal offense especially because no photograph of Greg and Liza going out together was ever presented.

The Supreme Court (SC) however did not agree with the IBP ruling. According to the SC, the members of the legal profession must conform to the highest degree of morality as mandated by the Code of Professional Responsibility particularly, Rule 1.01 which provides the “a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral and deceitful conduct; and Rule 7.03 which provides that “a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.”

The SC said that a married person’s abandonment of his/her spouse in order to live and cohabit with another constitutes immorality. The offense may even be criminal – either as concubinage or adultery. Immorality of conduct is that which is as willful, flagrant or shameless as to show indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the community.  To be a basis of disciplinary action, it must be so corrupt as to virtually constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree, or committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the common sense of decency.

In this case, Linda has adduced clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence which as a whole is superior to or has greater weight than that of Greg. The SC ruled that leaving his wife and family to cohabit with a married mistress definitely transgresses the clearly defined bounds of decency and morality. They are more than sufficient to establish the charge of gross immorality. It is of no moment that she presented no direct evidence like a photograph of the illicit relationship between him and Liza.

By his scandalous and highly immoral conduct, therefore, Greg showed that he did not possess the requisite good moral character needed for the continued practice of law. He deserves the extreme penalty of disbarment. This is the ruling in a case similar to the SC decision in Administrative case A.C. No. 8335, April 10, 2019.

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