CASE BrieF NO. 2010-0097

CASE: Maelotisea S. Garrido vs. Attys. Angel E. Garrido and Romana P. Valencia [A.C. No. 6593 February 4, 2010]

PONENTE: Per Curiam

SUBJECT:

  1. Legal Ethics:
    i. Lawyer’s Oath;
    ii. Disbarment Case– Gross Immorality; Desistance of the Private complainant; Prescription; Good Moral Character
    iii. Code of Professional Responsibility – Canon 7
    iv. Practice of Law

“It is not important that the acts complained of were committed before the lawyer complained of was admitted to the practice of law. “


FACTS:  Maelotisea Sipin Garrido filed a complaint for disbarment against Atty. Angel E. Garrido (Atty. Garrido) and Atty. Romana P.Valencia (Atty. Valencia) before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Committee on Discipline charging them with gross immorality.

Maelotisea  alleged that she is the legal wife of Atty. Garrido. They have 6 children. Sometime in 1987, one of their children confided that an unknown caller talked with her claiming that the former is a child of Atty Garrido. Also, one of her daughter, May Elizabeth, told her that she saw Atty. Garrido strolling at a mall together with a woman and a child who was later identified as Atty. Valencia and Angeli Ramona Valencia Garrido, respectively.

Maelotisea was able to secure the Certificate of Live Birth of the child, stating among others that the said child is the daughter of Atty. Garrido and Atty. Valencia.

In 1993, Atty. Garrido left the conjugal home and joined Atty. Valencia at their residence. Since he left the conjugal home Atty. Garrido failed and still failing to give Maelotisea the needed financial support to the prejudice of their children who stopped schooling because of financial constraints.

By way of defense, Atty. Garrido alleged that Maelotisea was not his legal wife, as he was already married to Constancia David (Constancia) when he married Maelotisea. He claimed he married Maelotisea after he and Constancia parted ways. As he and Maelotisea grew apart over the years due to financial problems, Atty. Garrido met Atty. Valencia. He became close to Atty. Valencia to whom he confided his difficulties. Together, they resolved his personal problems and his financial difficulties with his second family. Atty. Garrido denied that he failed to give financial support to his children with Maelotisea, emphasizing that all his six (6) children were educated in private schools; all graduated from college except for Arnel Victorino, who finished a special secondary course.

Atty. Garrido emphasized that all his marriages were contracted before he became a member of the bar on May 11, 1979, with the third marriage contracted after the death of Constancia on December 26, 1977. Likewise, his children with Maelotisea were born before he became a lawyer.

On her part, Atty. Valencia denied that she was the mistress of Atty. Garrido. She explained that Maelotisea was not the legal wife of Atty. Garrido since the marriage between them was void from the beginning due to the then existing marriage of Atty. Garrido with Constancia.

In the course of the hearings before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, Maelotisea filed a motion for the dismissal of her complaint, arguing that she wanted to maintain friendly relations with Atty. Garrido, who is the father of her six (6) children.

ISSUES:

  1. Should the disbarment case against Atty. Garrido be dismissed because the alleged immoral acts were committed before he was admitted to the Philippine Bar?
  2. Whether the desistance of Maelotisea merits the dismissal of the case.
  3. Whether Atty. Garrido should be disbarred for gross immoral conduct.
  4. Whether Atty. Valencia’s defense that the marriage between Atty. Garrido and Maelotisea is void tenable.

RULING:

A.       Prescription of offenses by the complainant do not apply in the determination of a lawyer’s qualifications and fitness for membership in the Bar. Admission to the practice of law is a component of the administration of justice and is a matter of public interest because it involves service to the public. 

The time that elapsed between the immoral acts charged and the filing of the complaint is not material in considering the qualification of Atty. Garrido when he applied for admission to the practice of law, and his continuing qualification to be a member of the legal profession. From this perspective, it is not important that the acts complained of were committed before Atty. Garrido was admitted to the practice of law. The possession of good moral character is both a condition precedent and a continuing requirement to warrant admission to the bar and to retain membership in the legal profession. Admission to the bar does not preclude a subsequent judicial inquiry, upon proper complaint, into any question concerning the mental or moral fitness of the respondent before he became a lawyer (Zaguirre v. Castillo). Admission to the practice only creates the rebuttable presumption that the applicant has all the qualifications to become a lawyer; this may be refuted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary even after admission to the Bar.

B.       In light of the public service character of the practice of law and the nature of disbarment proceedings as a public interest concern, Maelotisea’s affidavit of desistance cannot have the effect of discontinuing or abating the disbarment proceedings. Maelotisea is more of a witness than a complainant in these proceedings. We note further that she filed her affidavits of withdrawal only after she had presented her evidence; her evidence are now available for the Court’s examination and consideration, and their merits are not affected by her desistance. We cannot fail to note, too, that Mealotisea filed her affidavit of desistance, not to disown or refute the evidence she had submitted, but solely because of compassion (and, impliedly, out of concern for her personal financial interest in continuing friendly relations with Atty. Garrido).

C.       The undisputed facts gathered from the evidence and the admissions of Atty. Garrido established a pattern of gross immoral conduct that warrants his disbarment. His conduct was not only corrupt or unprincipled; it was reprehensible to the highest degree.

First, Atty. Garrido admitted that he left Constancia to pursue his law studies; thereafter and during the marriage, he had romantic relationships with other women. He had the gall to represent to this Court that the study of law was his reason for leaving his wife; marriage and the study of law are not mutually exclusive.

Second, he misrepresented himself to Maelotisea as a bachelor, when in truth he was already married to Constancia. This was a misrepresentation given as an excuse to lure a woman into a prohibited relationship.

Third, Atty. Garrido contracted his second marriage with Maelotisea notwithstanding the subsistence of his first marriage. This was an open admission, not only of an illegal liaison, but of the commission of a crime.

Fourth, Atty. Garrido engaged in an extra-marital affair with Atty. Valencia while his two marriages were in place and without taking into consideration the moral and emotional implications of his actions on the two women he took as wives and on his six (6) children by his second marriage.

Fifth, instead of making legal amends to validate his marriage with Maelotisea upon the death of Constancia, Atty. Garrido married Atty. Valencia who bore him a daughter.

Sixth, Atty. Garrido misused his legal knowledge and convinced Atty. Valencia (who was not then a lawyer) that he was free to marry, considering that his marriage with Maelotisea was not “valid.”

Seventh, as the evidence on record implies, Atty. Garrido married Atty. Valencia in Hongkong in an apparent attempt to accord legitimacy to a union entered into while another marriage was in place.

Eighth, after admission to the practice of law, Atty. Garrido simultaneously cohabited and had sexual relations with two (2) women who at one point were both his wedded wives. He also led a double life with two (2) families for a period of more than ten (10) years.

By his actions, Garrido committed multiple violations relating to the legal profession, specifically, violations of the bar admission rules, of his lawyer’s oath, and of the ethical rules of the profession.

Immoral conduct involves acts that are willful, flagrant, or shameless, and that show a moral indifference to the opinion of the upright and respectable members of the community. Immoral conduct is gross when it is so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree, or when committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the community’s sense of decency. We make these distinctions as the supreme penalty of disbarment arising from conduct requires grossly immoral, not simply immoral, conduct.

He did not possess the good moral character required of a lawyer at the time of his admission to the Bar. As a lawyer, he violated his lawyer’s oath, Section 20(a) of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, and Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, all of which commonly require him to obey the laws of the land.

He violated ethical rules of the profession, specifically, Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which commands that he “shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct”; Canon 7 of the same Code, which demands that “a lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession”; Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides that, “a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.”

D.      While Atty. Valencia contends that Atty. Garrido’s marriage with Maelotisea was null and void, the fact remains that he took a man away from a woman who bore him six (6) children. Ordinary decency would have required her to ward off Atty. Garrido’s advances, as he was a married man, in fact a twice-married man with both marriages subsisting at that time; she should have said no to Atty. Garrido from the very start. Instead, she continued her liaison with Atty. Garrido, driving him, upon the death of Constancia, away from legitimizing his relationship with Maelotisea and their children. Worse than this, because of Atty. Valencia’s presence and willingness, Atty. Garrido even left his second family and six children for a third marriage with her. This scenario smacks of immorality even if viewed outside of the prism of law.

Atty. Valencia violated Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as her behavior demeaned the dignity of and discredited the legal profession. She simply failed in her duty as a lawyer to adhere unwaveringly to the highest standards of morality. Lawyers, as officers of the court, must not only be of good moral character but must also be seen to be of good moral character and must lead lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community. Atty. Valencia failed to live up to these standards before she was admitted to the bar and after she became a member of the legal profession.

Moral character is not a subjective term but one that corresponds to objective reality. To have good moral character, a person must have the personal characteristics of being good. It is not enough that he or she has a good reputation, i.e., the opinion generally entertained about a person or the estimate in which he or she is held by the public in the place where she is known. The requirement of good moral character has four general purposes, namely: (1) to protect the public; (2) to protect the public image of lawyers; (3) to protect prospective clients; and (4) to protect errant lawyers from themselves. Each purpose is as important as the other.

The Fallo:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court resolves to:

(1) DISBAR Atty. Angel E. Garrido from the practice of law for gross immorality, violation of the Lawyer’s Oath; and violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility; and

(2) DISBAR Atty. Romana P. Valencia from the practice of law for gross immorality, violation of Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

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THINGS DECIDED:

A) Prescription of offenses by the complainant do not apply in the determination of a lawyer’s qualifications and fitness for membership in the Bar.

B) It is not important that the acts complained of were committed before the lawyer complained of was admitted to the practice of law.

C) The possession of good moral character is both a condition precedent and a continuing requirement to warrant admission to the bar and to retain membership in the legal profession. Admission to the bar does not preclude a subsequent judicial inquiry, upon proper complaint, into any question concerning the mental or moral fitness of the respondent before he became a lawyer (Zaguirre v. Castillo).

D) In light of the public service character of the practice of law and the nature of disbarment proceedings as a public interest concern, complainant’s affidavit of desistance cannot have the effect of discontinuing or abating the disbarment proceedings.

E) Lawyers, as officers of the court, must not only be of good moral character but must also be seen to be of good moral character and must lead lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community.

F) The requirement of good moral character has four general purposes, namely: (1) to protect the public; (2) to protect the public image of lawyers; (3) to protect prospective clients; and (4) to protect errant lawyers from themselves. Each purpose is as important as the other.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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