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Prohibition against frivolous suits and abuse of court processes, C3S7 CPRA

Section 7, Canon III

SECTION 7. Prohibition against frivolous suits and abuse of court processes. –  A lawyer shall not:
(a) file or encourage the filing of any suit or proceeding not authorized by law or jurisprudence and without any evidentiary support;
(b) unduly impede the execution of an order or judgment which is warranted; or
(c) abuse court processes. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. Prohibition against frivolous suits and abuse of court processes

Under this section, lawyers are prohibited from:

1) Filing or encouraging the filing of any suit or proceeding not authorized by law or jurisprudence and without any evidentiary support;

2) Unduly impeding the execution of an order or judgment which is wan-anted; or

3) Abusing court processes.

a. Malicious prosecution rule

Malicious prosecution – refers to “[a]n action for damages brought by one against whom a criminal prosecution, civil suit, or other legal proceeding has been instituted maliciously and without probable cause, after the termination of such prosecution, suit, or other proceeding in favor of the defendant therein. The gist of the action is the putting of legal process in force, regularly, for the mere purpose of vexation or injury.” (Someña v. Bonafe, G.R. No. 232677, June 08, 2020, Per Lazaro-Javier, J., citing Cabasaan v. Anota, 14169-R, November 19, 1956)

[I]nasmuch as lawyers must guard themselves against their own impulses of initiating unfounded suits, they are equally bound to advise a client, ordinarily a layman on the intricacies and vagaries of the law, on the merit or lack of merit of his or her case. If the lawyer finds that his or her client’s cause is defenseless, then it is his or her bounden duty to advise the latter to acquiesce and submit, rather than traverse the incontrovertible. Lawyers must resist the whims and caprices of their clients and to temper their propensities to litigate. (Ancheta v. Basa, A.C. No. 8789, March 11, 2020, Per Caguioa, J.)

Malicious prosecution does not only pertain to criminal prosecutions but also to any other legal proceeding such as a preliminary investigation. (Someña v. Bonafe [2020], supra.)

To constitute malicious prosecution, however, there must be proof that the prosecution was prompted by a sinister design to vex and humiliate a person, and that it was initiated deliberately by the defendant knowing that his charges were false and groundless.  Concededly, the mere act of submitting a case to the authorities for prosecution does not make one liable for malicious prosecution. (Someña v. Bonafe [2020], supra.)

Ancheta v. Basa, A.C. No. 8789, March 11, 2020, Per Caguioa, J.:

• Atty. Basa, by all means, is given the liberty to defend his client’s cause with utmost zeal.1âшphi1 This obligation, however, is not without reasonable limitations. The filing of frivolous suits against his opposing counsel manifests, at the very least, his gross indiscretion as a colleague in the legal profession and his malicious desire to vex Atty. Cabarroguis. Atty. Basa’s act ultimately exhibits his intent to paralyze Atty. Cabarroguis from exerting his utmost effort in protecting his client’s interest. Verily, the rendition of improper service by lawyers which does not meet the strictest principles of moral law invites stern and just condemnation from the Court because by doing so, they fail to advance the honor of their profession and the best interests of their clients.

• The Court finds that Atty. Basa violated the Lawyer’s Oath, Canon 1, Rule 1.03,25 Canon 8, Rule 8.01,26 Canon 12, Rules 12.02 and 12.04,27 and Canon 19, Rule 19.0128 of the CPR when he: (1) filed baseless criminal suits against Atty. Cabarroguis; (2) poked fun at Atty. Cabarroguis by deliberately misspelling his name in an omnibus motion; and (3) caused delay in the estafa case after moving for the inhibition of the presiding judge after eight years in trial. The Court agrees with the original findings of the IBP that Atty. Basa employed harassing tactics against Atty. Cabarroguis after he, on behalf of his client, filed an estafa case against Atty. Basa’s sister in 2002.

• Firstly, the Court does not wholly agree with the more recent findings of the IBP in its Resolution No. XXII-2017-1238 that Atty. Basa did not act with malice or bad faith in filing all of the 17 complaints against Atty. Cabarroguis. True, the administrative cases were proved to be substantiated as Atty. Cabarroguis was eventually disciplined in all three. Also, the eight counts for falsification and perjury initiated by Atty. Basa’s clients, the Molabolas, were later filed in court. However, there are criminal complaints relative to, or were offshoots of, the estafa case filed against Erlinda which were dismissed for lack of merit, and which the Court believes were frivolous and had no other apparent purpose to serve but to vex Atty. Cabarroguis.

• In I.S. No. 03-E-3753 filed by Atty. Basa against Atty. Cabarroguis for falsification under Article 172, paragraph 1 or 2 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the cause of action was founded on the complaint-affidavit executed by Godofredo through his attorney-in-fact, Atty. Cabarroguis, in the estafa case filed against Erlinda. Atty. Cabarroguis allegedly averred facts therein not of his own personal knowledge and had subscribed and sworn to the truthfulness of these allegations before an authorized officer. I.S. No. 03-E-3753 was dismissed because the prosecutor held that one of the elements of the crime, which is |that the offender knew that a document was falsified by another person” was not present. The prosecutor went on to say that there can be no false narration of facts when the allegations averred in the subject complaint-affidavit was attested to as being hearsay, i.e. there was an admission that the facts narrated are not within the personal knowledge of Atty. Cabarroguis. At the most, complainant can only argue that said allegations cannot be used as evidence for being hearsay.

• The dismissal of I.S. No. 03-E-3753 prompted Atty. Cabarroguis to file a complaint for malicious prosecution with damages against Atty. Basa. In his complaint-affidavit, Atty. Cabarroguis stated that he enjoys the honor and distinction of being President Emeritus of the Davao Jaycees, Inc. (JCI). This allegation, in turn, impelled Atty. Basa to tile another complaint for falsification which was docketed as I.S. No. 08-E-4146. In his complaint, Atty. Basa alleged that JCI certified that it has not, at any time, bestowed the title or position of President Emeritus to any of its members. I.S. No. 08-E-4146 was, however, dismissed on the ground of the existence of a prejudicial question in view of the pendency of the civil case for malicious prosecution with damages. The essence of the resolution for dismissal was that the question as to whether the claim of Atty. Cabarroguis is true can best be threshed out in the very civil case for malicious prosecution and damages. The resolution of the issue would henceforth determine whether a criminal case for falsification could indeed proceed.

• The frivolity in filing I.S. No. 03-E-3753 and I.S. No. 08-E-4146 is readily apparent. Representation by the principal of an attorney-in-fact is sanctioned by law. This representation to act on behalf of the principal includes the filing of complaints. Thus, there is nothing irregular for an agent duly armed with a special power of attorney to aver facts in an affidavit-complaint and to subscribe and swear to the truthfulness of the same before an authorized officer on behalf of a principal.

• Insofar as I.S. No. 08-E-4146 was concerned, the dismissal of the complaint was likewise called for. In the first place, the alleged falsity does not involve a fact that is material or relevant to the crime of malicious prosecution, which only has as its elements the presence of malice and absence of probable cause. More significantly, in the crime of falsification of making an untruthful statement in a narration of facts, one of the elements is that there is a legal obligation to disclose the truth of the facts narrated by the respondent. Legal obligation means that there is a law requiring the disclosure of the truth of the facts narrated.31 While arguably, Atty. Cabarroguis was morally obliged not to falsely claim that he was accorded the status of a President Emeritus by the JCI, there is, nevertheless, no law which requires him to disclose the truth of the matter.

• Moreover, Atty. Basa initiated four more criminal complaints against Atty. Cabarroguis for the same cause of action, in violation of Canon 12, Rule 12.02, and Canon 19, Rule 19.01 of the [old CPR.].

• The four criminal complaints were all in relation to the same affidavit-complaint Atty. Cabarroguis filed as the attorney-in-fact of Godofredo in the estafa case against Erlinda. In I.S. No. 2006-D-2748 for falsification, Atty. Basa accused Atty. Cabarroguis of making a false allegation in paragraph 1 of said affidavit-complaint when he said that Godofredo inherited his parents’ part in the parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-14402, when in truth, Godofredo did not. The prosecutor dismissed I.S. No. 2006-D-2748 on the grounds that there can be no perjury because the allegation of inheritance in the subject complaint-affidavit was not material to the charge of estafa, and that the element of willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood was not sufficiently established. The prosecutor noted that Atty. Cabarroguis only acted as an attorney-in-fact when he signed the subject complaint-affidavit and, hence, prepared and signed the same in accordance with the facts narrated to him by Godofredo.

• In another complaint docketed as I.S. No. 2006-E-3378, Atty. Basa charged Atty. Cabarroguis and Godofredo with falsification of public document under Article 172(1) of the RPC. The complaint shared the same cause of action with I.S. No. 2006-D-2748, in that Atty. Cabarroguis purportedly made a false allegation by stating in the same affidavit-complaint in the estafa case against Erlinda that Godofredo acquired the subject property by succession or inheritance, when in truth, he purchased it from his parents. I.S. No. 2006-E-3378 was likewise dismissed for lack of probable cause on the same grounds that I.S. No. 2006-D-2748 was dismissed.

• Two years after, the same cause of action in I.S. No. 2006-D-2748 and I.S. No. 2006-E-3378 was again alleged in two more complaints for falsification under Article 172 of the RPC, that is, the allegation in the affidavit-complaint of Godofredo against Erlinda in the estafa case that he and his brother inherited the subject property from their parents was false. The truth, rather, according to Erlinda, was that Godofredo and his brother purchased the subject property from their parents. This time, the complaints, which were docketed as I.S. No. 2008-G-5045 and I.S. No. 2008-G-5045-A, were filed by Erlinda against Atty. Cabarroguis and Atty. Dante C. Sandiego. There was also the additional allegation that Godofredo, although an American citizen, made it appear in his affidavit-complaint that he was qualified to acquire and own the subject land because he and his brother inherited it from their parents. I.S. No. 2008-G-5045 and I.S. No. 2008-G- 5045-A were also dismissed for lack of probable cause because the alleged false statement of fact was, on the contrary, a mere conclusion of law and that Godofredo was a former Filipino citizen who later acquired an American citizenship and was not, therefore, absolutely disqualified from acquiring lands in the Philippines.

• The foregoing shows how Atty. Basa recklessly applied the same cause of action in four different complaints that were all dismissed for lack of probable cause. He cannot validly argue that it was not he who initiated I.S. No. 2008-G-5045 and I.S. No. 2008-G-5045-A but his client, Erlinda. He cannot deny the fact that these complaints were filed two years after similar complaints, which he personally filed himself, were already dismissed for lack of probable cause. It is inexcusable for Atty. Basa to not be aware of his duty under his Lawyer’s Oath not to “wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor give aid nor consent to the same.”

• Finally, the Court also finds merit in the claim of Atty. Cabarroguis that Atty. Basa has failed to measure up to Canon 12, Rule 12.04 of the CPR when, apart from the baseless criminal complaints mentioned earlier, Atty. Basa also caused the filing of a motion for inhibition against the presiding judge in the estafa case against Erlinda. While the Court will not presume to evaluate the soundness of Judge Fuentes’ discretion to inhibit from the case, the Court finds it imperative to consider the unfortunate timing of the filing of the motion, which was after the trial of the case had taken eight years to conclude, as well as its bearing in light of the totality of the other infractions of Atty. Basa which meant to vex and harass Atty. Cabarroguis. The Court cannot likewise fail to observe how the inhibition of Judge Fuentes led to five more inhibitions of the other judges to whom the case was re-raffled, which thus ultimately presented the problem of unavailability of a judge who would try and hear the case. Needless to say, this turn of events caused untold delay in the resolution of the case to the prejudice of Atty. Cabarroguis’ client.

b. Unduly impeding the execution of an order or judgment which is warranted

[A]s the courts’ indispensable partner in the sacred task of administering justice, graver responsibility is imposed upon a lawyer, like herein respondent, than any other to uphold the integrity of the courts and to show respect to its processes. Thus, any act on his part which tends visibly to obstruct, pervert or impede and degrade the administration of justice constitutes professional misconduct calling for the exercise of disciplinary action against him. (Yamon-Leach v. Astorga, En Banc, A.C. No. 5987, August 28, 2019, Per Curiam)

Canlapan v. Balayo, A.C. No. 10605, February 17, 2016, Per Leonen, J.:

• Complainant avers that it was immoral and gross misconduct on the part of respondent, who was not a party to the case, to prevent the due implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement dated June 7, 2014. Complainant further points to the following statements of respondent as shown in the Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting dated June 30, 2014.

Mr. Balayo, the counsel, averred that while the case may not be brought before the Ombudsman, a case may arise, before any court, criminally, to which his client claims protection from and further averred that the Council may be held liable, more those who voted in favor of the agreement.

. . . .

Mr. Balayo again stressed the situation of “doing things right” and “doing the right thing.” That while the board wanted to do what is right, Mr. Canlapan however, was not able to bring his claim timely, and therefore; his right to do so is already forfeited and waived under the Labor Code.

• Complainant argues that the foregoing actuations of respondent violate Canon 12, Rule 12.04 [of the old CPR], which demands that lawyers should not “unduly delay a case, impede the execution of judgment or misuse court processes.” He adds that respondent should have encouraged the peaceful resolution of the labor case considering that the parties had already signed the compromise agreement.

• We find nothing improper in the actions and statements of respondent. What respondent did was a mere honest effort to protect the interest of his client, the Chair of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines – Mayon Albay Council. The Boy Scouts of the Philippines is a public corporation or government instrumentality; hence, the money to be paid to complainant is public money and subject to audit by the Commission on Audit. Hence, if the Memorandum of Agreement causes any undue injury to any party, including the government, the parties to the Agreement can be brought to court on administrative and/or criminal charges.

• It was Fajut who went to respondent’s office to seek legal advice after he was informed by a former Mayon Council employee that the Agreement was invalid. Respondent rendered his legal opinion dated June 10, 2014 in response to a query posed by Fajut pertaining to the legality of the payment of accrued sick leave benefits to complainant. In his opinion, respondent advised Fajut to retrieve the Compromise Agreement that he improvidently signed, to cause its cancellation, or to move for its disapproval before the Labor Arbiter on the following grounds: (1) complainant failed to present evidence (such as his Daily Time Record) to prove his factual claim that he never utilized his sick leave and vacation leave for 39 years; and (2) even assuming that complainant’s claim that he never availed himself of sick leaves was factually true, there was no basis to approve a claim that goes back 39 years.

• Respondent further explained that the Boy Scout of the Philippines Employees Manual showed that commutation of unused sick leaves must be done at the end of each year. Necessarily, the claim of commutation to cash of unused sick leaves for years 1975 to 2010 was already barred by Article 291 of the Labor Code. Respondent advised that at most, complainant could only claim benefits for a period of three (3) years.

• Respondent appeared in the proceedings before the Labor Arbiter on behalf of Fajut and only for the very limited purpose of pointing out to the Labor Arbiter the defect in the notarization of the Memorandum of Agreement. It was Fajut who approached respondent and asked him to make a special appearance on his behalf for the sole reason that complainant cjiose to present to the Labor Arbiter a defectively notarized Agreement, one which a signatory thereof actively tried to have cancelled in view of his doubts as to its validity.

• Moreover, respondent’s participation and statements in the June 30, 2014 Executive Committee meeting cannot be characterized as malicious and unprofessional. The issue of the criminal liability of those who voted in favor of the Agreement arose because of trie threats of criminal cases to be filed by a certain Mr. Redillas and a certain Mr. Navarra, both former officers of the Mayon Council. It is clear that respondent was merely expressing his legal opinion and not advocating any course of action.

• We hold that the foregoing acts do not amount to obstruction of the administration of justice. It is the right of every lawyer, without fear or favor, to give proper advice to those seeking relief. Respondent’s assertiveness in espousing with candor his client’s cause was: merely in accord with his duty to act in the best interests of his client.

Yamon-Leach v. Astorga, En Banc, A.C. No. 5987, August 28, 2019, Per Curiam:

• [T]his Court would like to address respondent’s callous disregard of the various orders and processes it issued which led to the unreasonable and inordinate delay in the resolution of the instant case. This Court has been very tolerant of respondent’s failure to comply with its directives as evidenced by the numerous opportunities which were given to him to file his comment to the complaint. However, respondent’s cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of this Court without any justifiable reason, much less explanation, only shows his utter disrespect to the judicial institution. What makes matters worse for respondent is the fact that he is not an ordinary litigant but is an officer of the court who is particularly called upon to obey court orders and processes. As an officer of the court, respondent is expected to know that a resolution of this Court is not a mere request but an order which should be complied with promptly and completely13 and not partially, inadequately or selectively.

• [R]espondent’s willful disobedience of this Court’s numerous orders has resulted in the extreme delay of the instant proceedings. Thus, he is guilty of violating Canon 12 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility], which provides that “[a] lawyer shall exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.” He also violated Rules 12.03 and 12.04, Canon 12 of the same Code, which state, respectively, that “[a] lawyer shall not, after obtaining extensions of time to file pleadings, memoranda or briefs, let the period lapse without submitting the same or offering an explanation for his failure to do so” and “[a] lawyer shall not unduly delay a case, impede the execution of a judgment or misuse court processes.”

c. Abusing court processes

There should be a greater awareness on the part of litigants and counsels that the time of the judiciary, much more so of this Court, is too valuable to be wasted or frittered away by efforts, far from commendable, to evade the operation of a decision final and executory, especially so, where, as shown in the present case, the clear and manifest absence of any right calling for vindication, is quite obvious and indisputable. (Sps. Aguilar v. The Manila Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 157911, September 19, 2006, Per Austria-Martinez, J.)

It is an important fundamental principle in the judicial system that every litigation must come to an end. Access to the courts is guaranteed. But there must be a limit thereto. Once a litigant’s rights have been adjudicated in a valid and final judgment of a competent court, he should not be granted an unbridled license to come back for another try. The prevailing party should not be harassed by subsequent suits. For, if endless litigations were to be encouraged, then unscrupulous litigants will multiply to the detriment of the administration of justice. (Sps. Aguilar v. The Manila Banking Corporation [2006], supra.)

Sps. Aguilar v. The Manila Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 157911, September 19, 2006, Per Austria-Martinez, J.:

• Without a doubt, the present case is an instance where the due process routine vigorously pursued by petitioners is but a clear-cut devise meant to perpetually forestall execution of an otherwise final and executory decision. Aside from clogging court dockets, the strategy is deplorably a common course resorted to by losing litigants in the hope of evading manifest obligations. The Court condemns this outrageous abuse of the judicial process by the petitioners and their counsels.

• The Court reminds petitioners’ counsel of the duty of lawyers who, as officers of the court, must see to it that the orderly administration of justice must not be unduly impeded. It is the duty of a counsel to advise his client, ordinarily a layman on the intricacies and vagaries of the law, on the merit or lack of merit of his case. If he finds that his client’s cause is defenseless, then it is his bounden duty to advise the latter to acquiesce and submit, rather than traverse the incontrovertible. A lawyer must resist the whims and caprices of his client, and temper his client’s propensity to litigate. A lawyer’s oath to uphold the cause of justice is superior to his duty to his client; its primacy is indisputable.

• Verily, by the undue delay in the execution of a final judgment in their favor, respondents have suffered an injustice. The Court views with disfavor the unjustified delay in the enforcement of the final decision and orders in the present case. Once a judgment becomes final and executory, the prevailing party should not be denied the fruits of his victory by some subterfuge devised by the losing party. Unjustified delay in the enforcement of a judgment sets at naught the role of courts in disposing justiciable controversies with finality. It is an important fundamental principle in the judicial system that every litigation must come to an end. Access to the courts is guaranteed. But there must be a limit thereto. Once a litigant’s rights have been adjudicated in a valid and final judgment of a competent court, he should not be granted an unbridled license to come back for another try. The prevailing party should not be harassed by subsequent suits. For, if endless litigations were to be encouraged, then unscrupulous litigants will multiply to the detriment of the administration of justice.

References

Canon III, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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