Legal Ethics

Atty. Conrado Gandeza, Jr. vs Judge Maria Clarita Tabin

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A.M. No. MTJ-09-1736 – 654 SCRA 268 – Legal Ethics – Judicial Ethics – Conduct of Judges – Impropriety

In November 2007, the cars of Atty. Conrado Gandeza, Jr. and Paul Casuga collided with each other. Later at the scene of the collision, Judge Maria Clarita Tabin arrived. She was the aunt of Casuga. Atty. Gandeza observed that the judge kept on reminding the investigating officer that the driver of Gandeza was drunk.

Later at the hospital, blood alcohol test was conducted on the driver of Gandeza. The initial result returned negative. But Judge Tabin insisted that the doctor do a second test. This time, the result was positive.

About a week later, a criminal case was filed against the driver of Gandeza. The wife of Atty. Gandeza, also a lawyer, later observed that a court employee was bringing the records of the case outside the premises of the court where the case was filed. The court employee said that the records were requested by Judge Tabin. The case also went to mediation where Gandeza also learned that Judge Tabin went to the mediation center and inquired about the case.

All these acts of the judge led to Gandeza’s filing of an administrative case against Judge Tabin for Gross Misconduct and Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge.

In her defense, Judge Tabin said that she never publicly made known that she was a judge when she was at the collision scene. But she did admit that the investigating officer as well as the doctor knew her to be such. She also said that she merely borrowed the records of the case because she learned that her nephew still did not have a lawyer. She also said that when she was at the mediation center, she merely went there to assist her sister (Casuga’s mom) as the latter did not know where the mediation center was located.

ISSUE: Whether or not Judge Tabin is guilty of Gross Misconduct or Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge.

HELD: No. But she is guilty of impropriety in violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Her being concern of her nephew is just but natural but as member of the judiciary, she should know that she should not interfere in the conduct of an investigation. She should always appear impartial – this did not happen when she interfered with the investigation and when she borrowed the records as well as when she was at the mediation center inquiring about the records of the case. She may have the best intention devoid of any malicious motive but sadly her actions, however, spawned the impression that she was using her office to unduly influence or pressure the concerned people to conduct the medical examination as well as the investigation in their favor.

Indeed, while Judge Tabin’s concern over the safety of her nephew and the outcome of his criminal case is understandable, she should not have disregarded the rules on proper decorum at the expense of the integrity of the court. Although concern for family members is deeply ingrained in the Filipino culture, she, being a judge, should bear in mind that she is also called upon to serve the higher interest of preserving the integrity of the entire Judiciary.

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