A Complaint was filed by Imelda Y. Maderada against Judge Ernesto H. Mediodea wherein the judge was charged with “gross ignorance of the law amounting to grave misconduct” for failing “to observe and apply the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure” in Civil Case No. 252.
Complainant filed an action for forcible entry with a prayer for preliminary injunction, temporary restraining order (TRO) and damages before the 12th MCTC, covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure. Because complainant was the clerk of court in the 12th MCTC, Judge Tersol inhibited herself from the case. Thus, the case was designated to the respondent judge.
Defendants’ lawyer questioned the authority of complainant to appear on behalf of and as counsel for her co-plaintiff.
The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) undertook an investigation on complainant’s appearance in court as counsel for herself and on behalf of her co-plaintiff without court authority.
According to the OCA, officials and employees of the judiciary must devote their full time to government service to ensure the efficient and speedy administration of justice. Although they are not absolutely prohibited from engaging in a vocation or a profession, they should do so only with prior approval of this Court.
The OCA added that “[e]ngaging in any private business, vocation or profession without prior approval of the Court is tantamount to moonlighting, which amounts to malfeasance in office.”
Thus, it recommended that Complainant Maderada be fined in the amount of ₱1,000 for appearing as counsel without authority from this Court, with a stern warning that any similar infraction in the future would be dealt with more severely.
The OCA also recommended that she be directed to file her application for leaves of absence on the days she had appeared in court to litigate her case.
Whether the complainant, in appearing for herself, and her co-plaintiff is considered to be in the practice of law.
A party’s right to conduct litigation personally is recognized by law. Section 34 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:
“SEC. 34. By whom litigation conducted. — In the court of a justice of the peace a party may conduct his litigation in person, with the aid of an agent or friend appointed by him for that purpose, or with the aid of an attorney. In any other court, a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the bar.”
This provision means that in a litigation, parties may personally do everything during its progress — from its commencement to its termination. When they, however, act as their own attorneys, they are restricted to the same rules of evidence and procedure as those qualified to practice law; otherwise, ignorance would be unjustifiably rewarded.
Individuals have long been permitted to manage, prosecute and defend their own actions; and when they do so, they are not considered to be in the practice of law. “One does not practice law by acting for himself any more than he practices medicine by rendering first aid to himself.”
The practice of law, though impossible to define exactly, involves the exercise of a profession or vocation usually for gain, mainly as attorney by acting in a representative capacity and as counsel by rendering legal advise to others. Private practice has been defined by this Court as follows:
“x x x. Practice is more than an isolated appearance, for it consists in frequent or customary action, a succession of acts of the same kind. In other words, it is frequent habitual exercise. Practice of law to fall within the prohibition of statute [referring to the prohibition for judges and other officials or employees of the superior courts or of the Office of the Solicitor General from engaging in private practice] has been interpreted as customarily or habitually holding one’s self out to the public, as a lawyer and demanding payment for such services. x x x.”
Clearly, in appearing for herself, complainant was not customarily or habitually holding herself out to the public as a lawyer. Neither was she demanding payment for such services. Hence, she cannot be said to be in the practice of law.
The law allows persons who are not lawyers by profession to litigate their own case in court. The right of complainant to litigate her case personally cannot be taken away from her. Her being an employee of the judiciary does not remove from her the right to proceedings in propria persona or to self-representation. To be sure, the lawful exercise of a right cannot make one administratively liable.
However, it was also clearly established that complainant had appeared on behalf of her co-plaintiff in the case below, for which act the former cannot be completely exonerated. Representing oneself is different from appearing on behalf of someone else.
The raison d’etre for allowing litigants to represent themselves in court will not apply when a person is already appearing for another party. Obviously, because she was already defending the rights of another person when she appeared for her co-plaintiff, it cannot be argued that complainant was merely protecting her rights. That their rights may be interrelated will not give complainant authority to appear in court. The undeniable fact remains that she and her co-plaintiff are two distinct individuals. The former may be impairing the efficiency of public service once she appears for the latter without permission from this Court.
We cannot countenance any act that would undermine the people’s faith and confidence in the judiciary, even if we consider that this was the first time complainant appeared in court, that she appeared for her own sister, and that there was no showing she did so for a fee.
Again we should be reminded that everyone connected with an office that is charged with the dispensation of justice carries a heavy burden of responsibility. Given these circumstances, the penalty of reprimand is sufficient.