Friday, August 29, 2008

Can you Dig’ Boorish UP Products?

The "Can You Dig’ It?" series is this blogger’s attempt in hitting the ratio decidendi of a particular case decided by the Supreme Court of the Philippines. This series of self-authored compendiums is this blogger’s way of suppressing the rigorous life in law school.

Atty. Melvin D.C. Mane vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen
June 30, 2008
Carpio Morales, J.

An alumnus of a particular law school has no monopoly of knowledge of the law.
Supreme Court of the Philippines


This case involves a Calamba City regional Trial Court judge who told a lawyer that since the latter is not a product of the UP College of Law, they could not be equals.

In the court proceedings last February 27, 2006, Belen boorishly asked Melvin Mane, the petitioner, if he graduated from the UP College of Law. The petitioner replied that he graduated from Manuel L. Quezon University and was proud of it.

The judge then responded: “Then you’re not from UP. Then you cannot equate yourself to me because there is a saying and I know this, not all law students are created equal, not all law schools are created equal, not all lawyers are created equal despite what the Supreme Being [said] that we all are created equal in His form and substance.

During the subject hearing, not only did the respondent judge make insulting and demeaning remarks to the petitioner but also engaged in unnecessary lecturing and debating. Belen even directed a court employee to show Mane the judge’s statements of assets and liabilities, among others.

Mane filed an administrative complaint shortly after the incident, and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) found cause to file an administrative case, although the lawyer later withdrew the complaint, admitting his “impulsiveness.” The OCA declared that the withdrawal or desistance of a complainant from pursuing an administrative complaint does not divest the Court of its disciplinary authority over court officials and personnel.

The issue at hand here is plainly whether or not the statements and actions made by the respondent judge during the subject hearing constitute conduct unbecoming of a judge and a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Court held Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen GUILTY of conduct unbecoming of a judge. Respondent clearly went out of bounds.

An alumnus of a particular law school has no monopoly of knowledge of the law. By hurdling the Bar Examinations which this Court administers, taking of the Lawyer’s oath, and signing of the Roll of Attorneys, a lawyer is presumed to be competent to discharge his functions and duties as an officer of the court, irrespective of where he obtained his law degree. For a judge to determine the fitness or competence of a lawyer primarily on the basis of his alma mater is clearly an engagement in an argumentum ad hominem.

The Court cited Belen’s violation of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which mandates that a judge should be courteous to counsel, especially to those who are young and inexperienced and also to all those others appearing or concerned in the administration of justice in the court. He should be courteous and civil, for it is unbecoming of a judge to utter intemperate language during the hearing of a case. He should not interrupt counsel in their arguments except to clarify his mind as to their positions. Nor should he be tempted to an unnecessary display of learning or premature judgment. He may utilize his opportunities to criticize and correct unprofessional conduct of attorneys, brought to his attention, but he may not do so in an insulting manner.

A judge’s official conduct and his behavior in the performance of judicial duties should be free from the appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach. He must at all times be temperate in his language for the noble position in the bench demands courteous speech in and out of the Court.

Respondent judge’s insulting statements which tend to question complainant’s capability and credibility stemming from the fact that the latter did not graduated from UP Law school is clearly unwarranted and inexcusable. Respondent opted for a conceited display of arrogance, a conduct that falls below the standard of decorum expected of a judge. If Belen felt that there is a need to admonish complainant Atty. Mane, he should have called him in his chambers where he can advise him privately rather than battering him with insulting remarks and embarrassing questions such as asking him from what school he came from publicly in the courtroom and in the presence of his clients. Humiliating a lawyer is highly reprehensible. It betrays the judge’s lack of patience and temperance. A highly temperamental judge could hardly make decisions with equanimity.

The Court also reminded Belen that judges should always be aware that disrespect to lawyers generates disrespect to them. There must be mutual concession of respect. Respect is not a one-way ticket where the judge should be respected but free to insult lawyers and others who appear in his court. Patience is an essential part of dispensing justice and courtesy is a mark of culture and good breeding.

Respondent Judge was REPRIMANDED and was further warned that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.