Whether lawyers who are also law professors can invoke academic freedom as a defense in an administrative proceeding for intemperate statements tending to pressure the Court or influence the outcome of a case or degrade the courts.

The Show Cause Resolution does not interfere with respondents’ academic freedom.

 

 

          It is not contested that respondents herein are, by law and jurisprudence, guaranteed academic freedom and undisputably, they are free to determine what they will teach their students and how they will teach. We must point out that there is nothing in the Show Cause Resolution that dictates upon respondents the subject matter they can teach and the manner of their instruction.  Moreover, it is not inconsistent with the principle of academic freedom for this Court to subject lawyers who teach law to disciplinary action for contumacious conduct and speech, coupled with undue intervention in favor of a party in a pending case, without observing proper procedure, even if purportedly done in their capacity as teachers.

A novel issue involved in the present controversy, for it has not been passed upon in any previous case before this Court, is the question of whether lawyers who are also law professors can invoke academic freedom as a defense in an administrative proceeding for intemperate statements tending to pressure the Court or influence the outcome of a case or degrade the courts.

 

Applying by analogy the Court’s past treatment of the “free speech” defense in other bar discipline cases, academic freedom cannot be successfully invoked by respondents in this case.           The implicit ruling in the jurisprudence discussed above is that the constitutional right to freedom of expression of members of the Bar may be circumscribed by their ethical duties as lawyers to give due respect to the courts and to uphold the public’s faith in the legal profession and the justice system.  To our mind, the reason that freedom of expression may be so delimited in the case of lawyers applies with greater force to the academic freedom of law professors.

 

It would do well for the Court to remind respondents that, in view of the broad definition in Cayetano v. Monsod,[134] lawyers when they teach law are considered engaged in the practice of law.  Unlike professors in other disciplines and more than lawyers who do not teach law, respondents are bound by their oath to uphold the ethical standards of the legal profession.  Thus, their actions as law professors must be measured against the same canons of professional responsibility applicable to acts of members of the Bar as the fact of their being law professors is inextricably entwined with the fact that they are lawyers.

 

Even if the Court was willing to accept respondents’ proposition in the Common Compliance that their issuance of the Statement was in keeping with their duty to “participate in the development of the legal system by initiating or supporting efforts in law reform and in the improvement of the administration of justice” under Canon 4 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, we cannot agree that they have fulfilled that same duty in keeping with the demands of Canons 1, 11 and 13 to give due respect to legal processes and the courts, and to avoid conduct that tends to influence the courts. Members of the Bar cannot be selective regarding which canons to abide by given particular situations. With more reason that law professors are not allowed this indulgence, since they are expected to provide their students exemplars of the Code of Professional Responsibility as a whole and not just their preferred portions thereof.

 

The Court’s rulings on the submissions regarding the charge of violation of Canons 1, 11 and 13.

 

          Having disposed of respondents’ main arguments of freedom of expression and academic freedom, the Court considers here the other averments in their submissions.

 

With respect to good faith, respondents’ allegations presented two main ideas: (a) the validity of their position regarding the plagiarism charge against Justice Del Castillo, and (b) their pure motive to spur this Court to take the correct action on said issue.

 

The Court has already clarified that it is not the expression of respondents’ staunch belief that Justice Del Castillo has committed a misconduct that the majority of this Court has found so unbecoming in the Show Cause Resolution.  No matter how firm a lawyer’s conviction in the righteousness of his cause there is simply no excuse for denigrating the courts and engaging in public behavior that tends to put the courts and the legal profession into disrepute.  This doctrine, which we have repeatedly upheld in such cases as Salcedo, In re Almacen and Saberong, should be applied in this case with more reason, as the respondents, not parties to the Vinuya case, denounced the Court and urged it to change its decision therein, in a public statement using contumacious language, which with temerity they subsequently submitted to the Court for “proper disposition.”

 

That humiliating the Court into reconsidering the Vinuya Decision in favor of the Malaya Lolas was one of the objectives of the Statement could be seen in the following paragraphs from the same:

 

And in light of the significance of this decision to the quest for justice not only of Filipino women, but of women elsewhere in the world who have suffered the horrors of sexual abuse and exploitation in times of war, the Court cannot coldly deny relief and justice to the petitioners on the basis of pilfered and misinterpreted texts.

 

            x x x x

 

(3) The same breach and consequent disposition of the Vinuya case does violence to the primordial function of the Supreme Court as the ultimate dispenser of justice to all those who have been left without legal or equitable recourse, such as the petitioners therein.[135] (Emphases and underscoring supplied.)

 

 

Whether or not respondents’ views regarding the plagiarism issue in the Vinuya case had valid basis was wholly immaterial to their liability for contumacious speech and conduct.  These are two separate matters to be properly threshed out in separate proceedings.  The Court considers it highly inappropriate, if not tantamount to dissembling, the discussion devoted in one of the compliances arguing the guilt of Justice Del Castillo.  In the Common Compliance, respondents even go so far as to attach documentary evidence to support the plagiarism charges against Justice Del Castillo in the present controversy.  The ethics case of Justice Del Castillo (A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC), with the filing of a motion for reconsideration, was still pending at the time of the filing of respondents’ submissions in this administrative case. As respondents themselves admit, they are neither parties nor counsels in the ethics case against Justice Del Castillo. Notwithstanding their professed overriding interest in said ethics case, it is not proper procedure for respondents to bring up their plagiarism arguments here especially when it has no bearing on their own administrative case.

 

Still on motive, it is also proposed that the choice of language in the Statement was intended for effective speech; that speech must be “forceful enough to make the intended recipients listen.”[136]  One wonders what sort of effect respondents were hoping for in branding this Court as, among others, callous, dishonest and lacking in concern for the basic values of decency and respect.  The Court fails to see how it can ennoble the profession if we allow respondents to send a signal to their students that the only way to effectively plead their cases and persuade others to their point of view is to be offensive.

 

            This brings to our mind the letters of Dr. Ellis and Prof. Tams which were deliberately quoted in full in the narration of background facts to illustrate the sharp contrast between the civil tenor of these letters and the antagonistic irreverence of the Statement. In truth, these foreign authors are the ones who would expectedly be affected by any perception of misuse of their works.  Notwithstanding that they are beyond the disciplinary reach of this Court, they still obviously took pains to convey their objections in a deferential and scholarly manner.  It is unfathomable to the Court why respondents could not do the same.  These foreign authors’ letters underscore the universality of the tenet that legal professionals must deal with each other in good faith and due respect.  The mark of the true intellectual is one who can express his opinions logically and soberly without resort to exaggerated rhetoric and unproductive recriminations.

 

As for the claim that the respondents’ noble intention is to spur the Court to take “constructive action” on the plagiarism issue, the Court has some doubts as to its veracity.  For if the Statement was primarily meant for this Court’s consideration, why was the same published and reported in the media first before it was submitted to this Court?  It is more plausible that the Statement was prepared for consumption by the general public and designed to capture media attention as part of the effort to generate interest in the most controversial ground in the Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration filed in the Vinuya case by Atty. Roque, who is respondents’ colleague on the UP Law faculty.

 

In this regard, the Court finds that there was indeed a lack of observance of fidelity and due respect to the Court, particularly when respondents knew fully well that the matter of plagiarism in the Vinuya decision and the merits of the Vinuya decision itself, at the time of the Statement’s issuance, were still both sub judice or pending final disposition of the Court.  These facts have been widely publicized. On this point, respondents allege that at the time the Statement was first drafted on July 27, 2010, they did not know of the constitution of the Ethics Committee and they had issued the Statement under the belief that this Court intended to take no action on the ethics charge against Justice Del Castillo.  Still, there was a significant lapse of time from the drafting and printing of the Statement on July 27, 2010 and its publication and submission to this Court in early August when the Ethics Committee had already been convened.  If it is true that the respondents’ outrage was fueled by their perception of indifference on the part of the Court then, when it became known that the Court did intend to take action, there was nothing to prevent respondents from recalibrating the Statement to take this supervening event into account in the interest of fairness.

 

Speaking of the publicity this case has generated, we likewise find no merit in the respondents’ reliance on various news reports and commentaries in the print media and the internet as proof that they are being unfairly “singled out.”  On the contrary, these same annexes to the Common Compliance show that it is not enough for one to criticize the Court to warrant the institution of disciplinary[137] or contempt[138] action.  This Court takes into account the nature of the criticism and weighs the possible repercussions of the same on the Judiciary.  When the criticism comes from persons outside the profession who may not have a full grasp of legal issues or from individuals whose personal or other interests in making the criticism are obvious, the Court may perhaps tolerate or ignore them.  However, when law professors are the ones who appear to have lost sight of the boundaries of fair commentary and worse, would justify the same as an exercise of civil liberties, this Court cannot remain silent for such silence would have a grave implication on legal education in our country.

 

With respect to the 35 respondents named in the Common Compliance, considering that this appears to be the first time these respondents have been involved in disciplinary proceedings of this sort, the Court is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were for the most part well-intentioned in the issuance of the Statement.  However, it is established in jurisprudence that where the excessive and contumacious language used is plain and undeniable, then good intent can only be mitigating.  As this Court expounded in Salcedo:

 

In his defense, Attorney Vicente J. Francisco states that it was not his intention to offend the court or to be recreant to the respect thereto but, unfortunately, there are his phrases which need no further comment. Furthermore, it is a well settled rule in all places where the same conditions and practice as those in this jurisdiction obtain, that want of intention is no excuse from liability (13 C. J., 45). Neither is the fact that the phrases employed are justified by the facts a valid defense:

 

“Where the matter is abusive or insulting, evidence that the language used was justified by the facts is not admissible as a defense. Respect for the judicial office should always be observed and enforced.” (In re Stewart, 118 La., 827; 43 S., 455.)  Said lack or want of intention constitutes at most an extenuation of liability in this case, taking into consideration Attorney Vicente J. Francisco’s state of mind, according to him when he prepared said motion. This court is disposed to make such concession. However, in order to avoid a recurrence thereof and to prevent others, by following the bad example, from taking the same course, this court considers it imperative to treat the case of said attorney with the justice it deserves.[139] (Emphases supplied.)

 

 

Thus, the 35 respondents named in the Common Compliance should, notwithstanding their claim of good faith, be reminded of their lawyerly duty, under Canons 1, 11 and 13, to give due respect to the courts and to refrain from intemperate and offensive language tending to influence the Court on pending matters or to denigrate the courts and the administration of justice.

 

With respect to Prof. Vasquez, the Court favorably notes the differences in his Compliance compared to his colleagues. In our view, he was the only one among the respondents who showed true candor and sincere deference to the Court.  He was able to give a straightforward account of how he came to sign the Statement.  He was candid enough to state that his agreement to the Statement was in principle and that the reason plagiarism was a “fair topic of discussion” among the UP Law faculty prior to the promulgation of the October 12, 2010 Decision in A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC was the uncertainty brought about by a division of opinion on whether or not willful or deliberate intent was an element of plagiarism.  He was likewise willing to acknowledge that he may have been remiss in failing to assess the effect of the language of the Statement and could have used more care.  He did all this without having to retract his position on the plagiarism issue, without demands for undeserved reliefs (as will be discussed below) and without baseless insinuations of deprivation of due process or of prejudgment.  This is all that this Court expected from respondents, not for them to sacrifice their principles but only that they recognize that they themselves may have committed some ethical lapse in this affair. We commend Prof. Vaquez for showing that at least one of the respondents can grasp the true import of the Show Cause Resolution involving them. For these reasons, the Court finds Prof. Vasquez’s Compliance satisfactory.

 

As for Prof. Lynch, in view of his Manifestation that he is a member of the Bar of the State of Minnesota and, therefore, not under the disciplinary authority of this Court, he should be excused from these proceedings.  However, he should be reminded that while he is engaged as a professor in a Philippine law school he should strive to be a model of responsible and professional conduct to his students even without the threat of sanction from this Court.  For even if one is not bound by the Code of Professional Responsibility for members of the Philippine Bar, civility and respect among legal professionals of any nationality should be aspired for under universal standards of decency and fairness.

 

The Court’s ruling on Dean Leonen’s Compliance regarding the charge of violation of Canon 10.

 

 

To recall, the Show Cause Resolution directed Dean Leonen to show cause why he should not be disciplinary dealt with for violation of Canon 10, Rules 10.01, 10.02 and 10.03 and for submitting a “dummy” that was not a true and faithful reproduction of the signed Statement.

 

In his Compliance, Dean Leonen essentially denies that Restoring Integrity II was not a true and faithful reproduction of the actual signed copy, Restoring Integrity I, because looking at the text or the body, there were no differences between the two.  He attempts to downplay the discrepancies in the signature pages of the two versions of the Statement (i.e., Restoring Integrity I and Restoring Integrity II) by claiming that it is but expected in “live” public manifestos with dynamic and evolving pages as more and more signatories add their imprimatur thereto. He likewise stresses that he is not administratively liable because he did not misrepresent the members of the UP Law faculty who “had agreed with the Restoring Integrity Statement proper and/or who had expressed their desire to be signatories thereto.”[140]

 

To begin with, the Court cannot subscribe to Dean Leonen’s implied view that the signatures in the Statement are not as significant as its contents.  Live public manifesto or not, the Statement was formally submitted to this Court at a specific point in time and it should reflect accurately its signatories at that point.  The value of the Statement as a UP Law Faculty Statement lies precisely in the identities of the persons who have signed it, since the Statement’s persuasive authority mainly depends on the reputation and stature of the persons who have endorsed the same. Indeed, it is apparent from respondents’ explanations that their own belief in the “importance” of their positions as UP law professors prompted them to publicly speak out on the matter of the plagiarism issue in the Vinuya case.

 

Further, in our assessment, the true cause of Dean Leonen’s predicament is the fact that he did not from the beginning submit the signed copy, Restoring Integrity I, to this Court on August 11, 2010 and, instead, submitted Restoring Integrity II with its retyped or “reformatted” signature pages. It would turn out, according to Dean Leonen’s account, that there were errors in the retyping of the signature pages due to lapses of his unnamed staff. First, an unnamed administrative officer in the dean’s office gave the dean inaccurate information that led him to allow the inclusion of Justice Mendoza as among the signatories of Restoring Integrity II.  Second, an unnamed staff also failed to type the name of Atty. Armovit when encoding the signature pages of Restoring Integrity II when in fact he had signed Restoring Integrity I.

 

The Court can understand why for purposes of posting on a bulletin board or a website a signed document may have to be reformatted and signatures may be indicated by the notation (SGD).  This is not unusual.  We are willing to accept that the reformatting of documents meant for posting to eliminate blanks is necessitated by vandalism concerns.

 

However, what is unusual is the submission to a court, especially this Court, of a signed document for the Court’s consideration that did not contain the actual signatures of its authors.  In most cases, it is the original signed document that is transmitted to the Court or at the very least a photocopy of the actual signed document.  Dean Leonen has not offered any explanation why he deviated from this practice with his submission to the Court of Restoring Integrity II on August 11, 2010.  There was nothing to prevent the dean from submitting Restoring Integrity I to this Court even with its blanks and unsigned portions. Dean Leonen cannot claim fears of vandalism with respect to court submissions for court employees are accountable for the care of documents and records that may come into their custody.  Yet, Dean Leonen deliberately chose to submit to this Court the facsimile that did not contain the actual signatures and his silence on the reason therefor is in itself a display of lack of candor.

 

Still, a careful reading of Dean Leonen’s explanations yield the answer.  In the course of his explanation of his willingness to accept his administrative officer’s claim that Justice Mendoza agreed to be indicated as a signatory, Dean Leonen admits in a footnote that other professors had likewise only authorized him to indicate them as signatories and had not in fact signed the Statement.  Thus, at around the time Restoring Integrity II was printed, posted and submitted to this Court, at least one purported signatory thereto had not actually signed the same.  Contrary to Dean Leonen’s proposition, that is precisely tantamount to making it appear to this Court that a person or persons participated in an act when such person or persons did not.

 

We are surprised that someone like Dean Leonen, with his reputation for perfection and stringent standards of intellectual honesty, could proffer the explanation that there was no misrepresentation when he allowed at least one person to be indicated as having actually signed the Statement when all he had was a verbal communication of an intent to sign.  In the case of Justice Mendoza, what he had was only hearsay information that the former intended to sign the Statement.  If Dean Leonen was truly determined to observe candor and truthfulness in his dealings with the Court, we see no reason why he could not have waited until all the professors who indicated their desire to sign the Statement had in fact signed before transmitting the Statement to the Court as a duly signed document.  If it was truly impossible to secure some signatures, such as that of Justice Mendoza who had to leave for abroad, then Dean Leonen should have just resigned himself to the signatures that he was able to secure.

 

We cannot imagine what urgent concern there was that he could not wait for actual signatures before submission of the Statement to this Court.  As respondents all asserted, they were neither parties to nor counsels in the Vinuya case and the ethics case against Justice Del Castillo.  The Statement was neither a pleading with a deadline nor a required submission to the Court; rather, it was a voluntary submission that Dean Leonen could do at any time.

 

In sum, the Court likewise finds Dean Leonen’s Compliance unsatisfactory.  However, the Court is willing to ascribe these isolated lapses in judgment of Dean Leonen to his misplaced zeal in pursuit of his objectives.  In due consideration of Dean Leonen’s professed good intentions, the Court deems it sufficient to admonish Dean Leonen for failing to observe full candor and honesty in his dealings with the Court as required under Canon 10.

http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2011/march2011/10-10-4-SC.htm

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About Erineus

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

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