Legal Ethics

Sps. Causin v. Judge Demecillo A.M. No. RTJ-04-1860 September 8, 2004 Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct

FACTS:

Spouses Florencio and Esther Causin filed a complaint against respondent RTC Judge Leonardo N. Demecillo, charging him with bias and partiality, violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The complaint stemmed from a 1994 case for quieting of title filed by Raul F. Lim, which was raffled off to the RTC, Branch 24, presided by respondent judge.

Complainant-spouses alleged that Judge Rodrigo Lim, Jr., then RTC Acting Judge of Branch 21, CDO City and a brother of plaintiff Raul Lim, acted as the latter’s counsel and attended the hearings in the case, cross-examined the witnesses, interposed objections at the trials, chose the hearing dates, and delivered oral arguments in court — all without special authority from the SC, and respondent judge allowed the same, and even extended unwarranted consideration to the plaintiffs. 

Complainants alleged that when they moved for an ocular inspection of the subject lots to show to the court the actual location of the disputed boundary, respondent judge denied their request and sustained the objection of Judge Lim.

Finally, complainant-spouses charged that respondent judge knowingly rendered an unjust decision in the case when he awarded the disputed portion of the land to plaintiff Lim without considering the merits of their evidence.

In answer to the complaint, respondent judge denied the charges. 

He explained that he allowed Judge Lim to appear as counsel for the plaintiffs as he presumed that the latter had sought prior authority to do so from this Court. 

He pointed out that under Section 21, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, an attorney is presumed to be properly authorized to represent any cause in which he appears. 

On the charge of knowingly rendering an unjust judgment, respondent judge stressed that he decided the case against the complainants based on the evidence and the law, guided by his deep sense of justice. 

Finally, respondent judge argued that if complainant-spouses doubted his impartiality, they should have filed a motion to inhibit him and he would have readily granted it. 

Likewise, he pointed out that if they had objected to the participation of Judge Lim in the proceedings, it would have given him reason to inquire from Judge Lim whether he was authorized to appear in said case.

For his part, Executive Judge Rodrigo Lim, Jr. admitted that he did not secure from this Court an authority to appear in the proceedings of the case.

ISSUE:

Whether or not respondent Judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

RULING:

From a reading of the transcript, we cannot evince bias or partiality on the part of respondent judge during the proceedings in the case.

Bias and partiality can never be presumed. Bare allegations of partiality will not suffice in the absence of clear and convincing proof that will overcome the presumption that the judge dispensed justice according to law and evidence, without fear or favor.

As to the denial of the request of complainant-spouses for an ocular inspection of the lots, respondent judge reasonably exercised his discretion in ordering instead the conduct of a relocation survey by a licensed inspector. It is the better means to determine who between the parties encroached on the boundary of the adjacent lands. 

Neither is there basis to hold respondent judge liable for knowingly rendering an unjust decision in said case. 

The key word is “knowingly.” 

For liability to attach, the assailed decision must not only be found erroneous. As a rule, the acts of a judge which pertain to his judicial functions are not subject to disciplinary power unless they are committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith. 

To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment.

In the case at bar, complainant-spouses failed to prove that the judgment is contrary to law or unsupported by evidence. The records disclose that the assailed decision of respondent judge had been affirmed on appeal by the CA and by this Court. 

Neither was it shown that the judgment was made with deliberate malice or injustice. Thus, their claim is more speculative than a product of concrete proof. 

Nonetheless, we find respondent judge guilty of violating Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which prescribes that a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. 

Rule 2.01 provides that a judge should behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. In the case at bar, the records reveal that respondent judge allowed Judge Lim to actively participate and intervene in the case for quieting of title, without authority from this Court. 

The prohibition for a judge to appear in a case as counsel for one of the parties is based on public policy. In allowing Judge Lim to actively involve himself in the trial of the case, represent the interests of the plaintiff therein, cross-examine the witnesses and register his objections during the trial, the complainants and the public were given the impression that Judge Lim might or could unduly influence the conduct and outcome of the litigation. 

It undermined and compromised in the eyes of the public the integrity and independence of his court. It was incumbent upon respondent judge to inquire from Judge Lim whether he obtained authority from this Court to appear in said case. 

The rule that a lawyer is presumed to be authorized to appear before a court applies only to lawyers, not judges. Judges are prohibited from being personally involved in a case unless he himself is a party thereto. Respondent judge transgressed the rule pertaining to the avoidance, not only of actual impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety. 

Court has stressed in countless cases that judges ought not only to be impartial but should also appear to be impartial. They should continuously encourage and uphold safeguards for the discharge of judicial duties to reinforce public confidence in the judicial process which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial integrity.

Respondent Judge Leonardo N. Demecillo is meted the penalty of fine in the amount of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00) for violation of Canon 2, Rule 2.01 and Rule 2.03 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, with a stern warning that a repetition of similar infractions shall be dealt with more severely.

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