Legal Ethics

In Re: Marcelino Lontok

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43 Phil. 293 – Legal Ethics – Disbarment – Moral Turpitude – Effect of Absolute Pardon

In 1918, Atty. Marcelino Lontok was convicted of bigamy. Bigamy is a crime involving moral turpitude. In 1921, Lontok was pardoned by the Governor-General.

The Attorney-General, however, sought for the disbarment of Atty. Lontok on the ground that a member of the bar may be suspended or removed if he is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Atty. Lontok argued that the pardon granted to him operates to blot out all the effects of the conviction. On this the Attorney-General contended that while the pardon removes the legal infamy of the crime, it cannot wash out the moral stain.

ISSUE: Whether or not Atty. Lontok, despite the pardon he received, must be disbarred.

HELD: No. Prior to this case, there were conflicting decisions on the effect of pardon as to the Court’s right to discipline a lawyer. In the 1915 case of In Re: Emmons, it has been held that a pardon operates to wipe out the conviction and is a bar to any proceeding for the disbarment of the attorney after the pardon has been granted. While in the 1907 case of People vs. Burton, it was held that where proceedings to disbar an attorney are founded on the professional misconduct involved in a transaction which has culminated in a conviction of felony, it has been held that while the effect of the pardon is to relieve him of the penal consequences of his act, it does not operate as a bar to the disbarment proceedings, inasmuch as the criminal acts may nevertheless constitute proof that the attorney does not possess a good moral character and is not a fit or proper person to retain his license to practice law. There was also the 1866 case of Ex parte Garland where it was ruled that an absolute pardon “does not restore offices forfeited, or property or interest vested in others in consequence of the conviction and judgment.”

In this case, the Supreme Court considered the fact that the sole basis of the disbarment proceedings was the fact that Atty. Lontok was convicted of bigamy for which he was absolutely pardoned. The SC also considered the fact that one of the modes of extinguishing criminal liability is by way of pardon.

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