Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers initiated motu proprio by the Supreme Court under Rule 139-B, Section 13 do not involve a trial

Respondents’ requests for a hearing, for production/presentation of evidence bearing on the plagiarism and misrepresentation issues in G.R. No. 162230 and A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC, and for access to the records of A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC are unmeritorious.

In the Common Compliance, respondents named therein asked for alternative reliefs should the Court find their Compliance unsatisfactory, that is, that the Show Cause Resolution be set for hearing and for that purpose, they be allowed to require the production or presentation of witnesses and evidence bearing on the plagiarism and misrepresentation issues in the Vinuya case (G.R. No. 162230) and the plagiarism case against Justice Del Castillo (A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC) and to have access to the records of, and evidence that were presented or may be presented in the ethics case against Justice Del Castillo.  The prayer for a hearing and for access to the records of A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC was substantially echoed in Dean Leonen’s separate Compliance.  In Prof. Juan-Bautista’s Compliance, she similarly expressed the sentiment that “[i]f the Restoring Integrity Statement can be considered indirect contempt, under Section 3 of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, such may be punished only after charge and hearing.”[141]  It is this group of respondents’ premise that these reliefs are necessary for them to be accorded full due process.

The Court finds this contention unmeritorious.

Firstly, it would appear that the confusion as to the necessity of a hearing in this case springs largely from its characterization as a special civil action for indirect contempt in the Dissenting Opinion of Justice Sereno (to the October 19, 2010 Show Cause Resolution) and her reliance therein on the majority’s purported failure to follow the procedure in Rule 71 of the Rules of Court as her main ground for opposition to the Show Cause Resolution.

However, once and for all, it should be clarified that this is not an indirect contempt proceeding and Rule 71 (which requires a hearing) has no application to this case.  As explicitly ordered in the Show Cause Resolution this case was docketed as an administrative matter.

The rule that is relevant to this controversy is Rule 139-B, Section 13, on disciplinary proceedings initiated motu proprio by the Supreme Court, to wit:

SEC. 13. Supreme Court Investigators.—In proceedings initiated motu proprio by the Supreme Court or in other proceedings when the interest of justice so requires, the Supreme Court may refer the case for investigation to the Solicitor General or to any officer of the Supreme Court or judge of a lower court, in which case the investigation shall proceed in the same manner provided in sections 6 to 11 hereof, save that the review of the report of investigation shall be conducted directly by the Supreme Court. (Emphasis supplied.)

From the foregoing provision, it cannot be denied that a formal investigation, through a referral to the specified officers, is merely discretionary, not mandatory on the Court.  Furthermore, it is only if the Court deems such an investigation necessary that the procedure in Sections 6 to 11 of Rule 139-A will be followed.

As respondents are fully aware, in general, administrative proceedings do not require a trial type hearing.  We have held that:

The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard or, as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. What the law prohibits is absolute absence of the opportunity to be heard, hence, a party cannot feign denial of due process where he had been afforded the opportunity to present his side. A formal or trial type hearing is not at all times and in all instances essential to due process, the requirements of which are satisfied where the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side of the controversy.[142] (Emphases supplied.)

In relation to bar discipline cases, we have had the occasion to rule in Pena v. Aparicio[143] that:

Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, they do not involve a trial of an action or a suit, but is rather an investigation by the Court into the conduct of one of its officers. Not being intended to inflict punishment, it is in no sense a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, there is neither a plaintiff nor a prosecutor therein. It may be initiated by the Court motu proprio. Public interest is its primary objective, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges as such. Hence, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney. In such posture, there can thus be no occasion to speak of a complainant or a prosecutor.[144]  (Emphases supplied.)

In Query of Atty. Karen M. Silverio-Buffe, Former Clerk of Court – Br. 81, Romblon – On the Prohibition from Engaging in the Private Practice of Law,[145] we further observed that:

[I]n several cases, the Court has disciplined lawyers without further inquiry or resort to any formal investigation where the facts on record sufficiently provided the basis for the determination of their administrative liability.

In Prudential Bank v. Castro, the Court disbarred a lawyer without need of any further investigation after considering his actions based on records showing his unethical misconduct; the misconduct not only cast dishonor on the image of both the Bench and the Bar, but was also inimical to public interest and welfare. In this regard, the Court took judicial notice of several cases handled by the errant lawyer and his cohorts that revealed their modus operandi in circumventing the payment of the proper judicial fees for the astronomical sums they claimed in their cases. The Court held that those cases sufficiently provided the basis for the determination of respondents’ administrative liability, without need for further inquiry into the matter under the principle of res ipsa loquitur.

Also on the basis of this principle, we ruled in Richards v. Asoy, that no evidentiary hearing is required before the respondent may be disciplined for professional misconduct already established by the facts on record.

x x x x

These cases clearly show that the absence of any formal charge against and/or formal investigation of an errant lawyer do not preclude the Court from immediately exercising its disciplining authority, as long as the errant lawyer or judge has been given the opportunity to be heard. As we stated earlier, Atty. Buffe has been afforded the opportunity to be heard on the present matter through her letter-query and Manifestation filed before this Court.[146] (Emphases supplied.)

Under the rules and jurisprudence, respondents clearly had no right to a hearing and their reservation of a right they do not have has no effect on these proceedings.  Neither have they shown in their pleadings any justification for this Court to call for a hearing in this instance.  They have not specifically stated what relevant evidence, documentary or testimonial, they intend to present in their defense that will necessitate a formal hearing.

Instead, it would appear that they intend to present records, evidence, and witnesses bearing on the plagiarism and misrepresentation issues in the Vinuya case and in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC on the assumption that the findings of this Court which were the bases of the Show Cause Resolution were made in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC, or were related to the conclusions of the Court in the Decision in that case.  This is the primary reason for their request for access to the records and evidence presented in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC.

This assumption on the part of respondents is erroneous.  To illustrate, the only incident in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC that is relevant to the case at bar is the fact that the submission of the actual signed copy of the Statement (or Restoring Integrity I, as Dean Leonen referred to it) happened there.  Apart from that fact, it bears repeating that the proceedings in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC, the ethics case against Justice Del Castillo, is a separate and independent matter from this case.

To find the bases of the statements of the Court in the Show Cause Resolution that the respondents issued a Statement with language that the Court deems objectionable during the pendency of the Vinuya case and the ethics case against Justice Del Castillo, respondents need to go no further than the four corners of the Statement itself, its various versions, news reports/columns (many of which respondents themselves supplied to this Court in their Common Compliance) and internet sources that are already of public knowledge.

Considering that what respondents are chiefly required to explain are the language of the Statement and the circumstances surrounding the drafting, printing, signing, dissemination, etc., of its various versions, the Court does not see how any witness or evidence in the ethics case of Justice Del Castillo could possibly shed light on these facts.  To be sure, these facts are within the knowledge of respondents and if there is any evidence on these matters the same would be in their possession.

We find it significant that in Dean Leonen’s Compliance he narrated how as early as September 2010, i.e., before the Decision of this Court in the ethics case of Justice Del Castillo on October 12, 2010 and before the October 19, 2010 Show Cause Resolution, retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente V.  Mendoza, after being shown a copy of the Statement upon his return from abroad, predicted that the Court would take some form of action on the Statement.  By simply reading a hard copy of the Statement, a reasonable person, even one who “fundamentally agreed” with the Statement’s principles, could foresee the possibility of court action on the same on an implicit recognition that the Statement, as worded, is not a matter this Court should simply let pass.  This belies respondents’ claim that it is necessary for them to refer to any record or evidence in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC in order to divine the bases for the Show Cause Resolution.

If respondents have chosen not to include certain pieces of evidence in their respective compliances or chosen not to make a full defense at this time, because they were counting on being granted a hearing, that is respondents’ own look-out.  Indeed, law professors of their stature are supposed to be aware of the above jurisprudential doctrines regarding the non-necessity of a hearing in disciplinary cases.  They should bear the consequence of the risk they have taken.

Thus, respondents’ requests for a hearing and for access to the records of, and evidence presented in, A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC should be denied for lack of merit.

A final word

          In a democracy, members of the legal community are hardly expected to have monolithic views on any subject, be it a legal, political or social issue.  Even as lawyers passionately and vigorously propound their points of view they are bound by certain rules of conduct for the legal profession.  This Court is certainly not claiming that it should be shielded from criticism. All the Court demands is the same respect and courtesy that one lawyer owes to another under established ethical standards.  All lawyers, whether they are judges, court employees, professors or private practitioners, are officers of the Court and have voluntarily taken an oath, as an indispensable qualification for admission to the Bar, to conduct themselves with good fidelity towards the courts.  There is no exemption from this sworn duty for law professors, regardless of their status in the academic community or the law school to which they belong.


About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Disciplinary Proceedings, Judicial and Legal Ethics, Supreme Court and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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