Legal Ethics

Atty. Mane v. Judge Belen A.M. No. RTJ-08-2119 June 30, 2008 Legal and Judicial Ethics

FACTS:

Atty. Melvin D.C. Mane (complainant) charged Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen (respondent), Presiding Judge of Branch 36, RTC Calamba City, of “demean[ing], humiliat[ing] and berat[ing]” him during the hearing of Civil Case No. 3514-2003-C, in which he was counsel for the plaintiff.

To prove his claim, complainant cited the remarks made by respondent in the course of the proceedings conducted on February 27, 2006 as transcribed by stenographer Elenita C. de Guzman, viz:

COURT:

. . . Sir, are you from the College of Law of the University of the Philippines?

ATTY. MANE:

No, Your Honor, from Manuel L. Quezon University, Your Honor.

COURT:

No, you’re not from UP.

ATTY. MANE:

I am very proud of it.

COURT:

Then you’re not from UP. Then you cannot equate yourself to me because there is a saying and I know this, not all law students are created equal, not all law schools are created equal, not all lawyers are created equal despite what the Supreme Being that we all are created equal in His form and substance.

Complainant, however, later withdrew his complaint, stating that it was a mere result of his impulsiveness.

The OCA came up with the following evaluation:

. . . The withdrawal or desistance of a complainant from pursuing an administrative complaint does not divest the Court of its disciplinary authority over court officials and personnel. Thus, the complainant’s withdrawal of the instant complaint will not bar the continuity of the instant administrative proceeding against respondent judge.

x x x x

. . . [A] judge’s official conduct and his behavior in the performance of judicial duties should be free from the appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach. A judge must at all times be temperate in his language. Respondent judge’s insulting statements which tend to question complainant’s capability and credibility stemming from the fact that the latter did not graduate  from UP Law school is clearly unwarranted and inexcusable. When a judge indulges in intemperate language, the lawyer can return the attack on his person and character, through an administrative case against the judge, as in the instant case.

xxx Judges are demanded to be always temperate, patient and courteous both in conduct and language.

x x x x

Judge Belen should bear in mind that all judges should always observe courtesy and civility. In addressing counsel, litigants, or witnesses, the judge should avoid a controversial tone or a tone that creates animosity. Judges should always be aware that disrespect to lawyers generates disrespect to them. There must be mutual concession of respect. 

xxx

The OCA thus recommended that respondent be reprimanded for violation of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct with a warning that a repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the statements and actions made by the respondent judge during the subject hearing constitute conduct unbecoming of a judge and a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

RULING:

The Court finds the evaluation by the OCA well-taken.

An alumnus of a particular law school has no monopoly of knowledge of the law. By hurdling the Bar Examinations which this Court administers, taking of the Lawyer’s oath, and signing of the Roll of Attorneys, a lawyer is presumed to be competent to discharge his functions and duties as, inter alia, an officer of the court, irrespective of where he obtained his law degree. For a judge to determine the fitness or competence of a lawyer primarily on the basis of his alma mater is clearly an engagement in an argumentum ad hominem.

A judge must address the merits of the case and not on the person of the counsel. If respondent felt that his integrity and dignity were being “assaulted,” he acted properly when he directed complainant to explain why he should not be cited for contempt. He went out of bounds, however, when he, as the portions of the transcript of stenographic notes show, engaged in a supercilious legal and personal discourse.

This Court has reminded members of the bench that even on the face of boorish behavior from those they deal with, they ought to conduct themselves in a manner befitting gentlemen and high officers of the court.

Respondent having exhibited conduct unbecoming of a judge, classified as a light charge under Section 10, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, which is penalized under Section 11(c) of the same Rule by any of the following: (1) a fine of not less than P1,000 but not exceeding P10,000; (2) censure; (3) reprimand; and (4) admonition with warning, the Court imposes upon him the penalty of reprimand.

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