One of the conditions for admission to the bar is possession of good moral character which must be also preserved in order to continue membership therein. There is no inflexible standard however as to what is grossly immoral conduct or moral delinquency and obliquity which renders a lawyer unworthy of continuing as a member of the bar. An unconventional behavior to a straight laced may not be the immoral conduct that warrants disbarment. This is explained in this case of Annie.
Annie is a graduate of the college of law who has been admitted to the bar and practicing as a lawyer for more than seven years already. After barely one year in practice, she met Max whom she knew as a bachelor although he had children by a Chinese woman in China from whom he had long been estranged. Annie agreed to be the girlfriend of Max and they begot a child. Then after two years, they got married in the USA. Upon their return here, Annie did not live with Max who continued to live with her children because they wanted to let them accept first the fact of the second marriage before they live together.
A year later, Annie begot another daughter with Max whom she named Liana. Then she left the country and went back to the US. She would just occasionally return here to update her law practice and renew legal ties. During one of her trips back here, Annie was surprised when she was confronted by a woman named Trina who insisted that she was the legal wife of Max for 17 years already and with whom she begot four children. It turned out that when Trina learned about Max’s relationship with Annie, Max admitted and told Trina that he also married Annie and they had two daughters. But he assured Trina that everything was over between them. Hurt and desolate upon learning of Max’s true status, Annie left the country and went back to the US.
However when Annie returned two years after and reported for work in the law office she was working, Trina already filed a complaint for disbarment against Annie before the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) allegedly because Annie continued her relationship with Max, despite her plea for them to separate. During the pendency of the proceedings before the IBP, Trina also charged Max and Annie with the crime of concubinage before the provincial fiscal. But said charge was dismissed by the fiscal for lack of probable cause, ruling that even if there is an illicit relationship between Max and Annie as Trina alleged, she and Max continue to live together at their conjugal home which shows that Max and Annie did not cohabit as husband and wife that is essential in the crime of Concubinage. This resolution was affirmed by the Department of Justice and was no longer questioned.
In the disbarment proceedings, Trina filed a Motion to Cite Annie in Contempt for making false allegations in her answer and altering the date of their marriage two years earlier than what the duly authenticated marriage certificate showed. In opposition Annie averred that she annexed said certificate in good faith and that it was highly incredible for her to have knowingly attached a falsified marriage certificate in her answer because she did not know that Max was already married and there was no compelling reason for her to attach a marriage certificate if she knew it was altered.
With respect to the disbarment case, Annie claimed that she entered into a relationship with Max in good faith and her conduct cannot be considered as willful, flagrant, or shameless nor can it even suggest moral indifference. She said she fell in love with Max whom she believed to be single and that upon discovery of his true civil status, she parted ways with him.
Thereafter, the IBP Board of Governors dismissed the complaint against Annie for lack of merit, but reprimanded her for knowingly and willfully attaching to her answer, a falsified Marriage Certificate, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same will merit a more severe penalty.
The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed this report and recommendation of the IBP Board dismissing the complaint against Annie. The SC said while there are really circumstances which lead to the inescapable conclusion that Annie was imprudent in managing her personal affairs, the fact remains however that her relationship with Max cannot be considered immoral because she believed they were validly married. Immorality connotes a conduct showing indifference to the moral norms of society and the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. Moreover, to warrant disciplinary action, the conduct must be so gross, or so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree. Annie’s act of immediately distancing herself from Max upon discovering his true civil status belies that alleged moral indifference and proves that she had no intention of flaunting the law and the high moral standard of the legal profession. Trina’s bare assertions to the contrary deserve no credit, so the complaint for disbarment should be dismissed.
But Annie’s averment regarding the Marriage Certificate attached to her Answer, is improbable to believe. Any normal bride would verily recall the date and year of an event as significant as a marriage ceremony. It is difficult to fathom how a bride, especially a lawyer like Annie, can forget the year when she got married. This is contrary to human experience and highly improbable. Furthermore, any prudent lawyer would verify the information contained in the attachment to her pleading especially so when she has personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances contained therein. In attaching such Marriage Certificate with an altered date, Annie’s defense of good faith cannot stand. So she must be reprimanded for attaching to her Answer an altered Marriage Certificate with a stern warning of a more severe sanction for any repetition of a similar offense in the future (Ul vs. Bonifacio, A.C. 3319, June 8, 2000).
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