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1. Nature and characteristics of disciplinary actions against lawyers

a. NATURE AND CHARACTERISTICS

1) Sui Generis

2) Not subject to prescription

3) Judicial in nature

4) Motu proprio

5) Complainant not indispensable

6) Confidential

7) Penalty cannot be in the alternative

8) Not subject to prescription

a. Sui generis

1) Class of its own

Disbarment cases are sui generis. Being neither criminal nor civil in nature, these are not intended to inflict penal or civil sanctions. The main question to be determined is whether respondent is still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice. (Gonzales v. Alcaraz, A.C. No. 5321, 27 September 2006)

Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, they do not involve a trial of an action or a suit, but are rather investigations by the Court into the conduct of its officers. Not being intended to inflict punishment, they are in no sense a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, there is neither a plaintiff nor a prosecutor therein. They may be initiated by the Court motu proprio. Public interest is their primary objective, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges as such. Hence, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proven themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney. (In the Matter of Proceedings for Disciplinary Action Against Atty. Vicente Raul Almacen in L-27654 v. Yaptinchay, G.R. No. L-27654, 18 February 1970)

2) Judicial in nature

In line with its Constitutional mandate to promulgate rules concerning the admission to the practice of law, and the Integrated Bar, and by virtue of its power to discipline members of the bar under Section 11 Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, the Supreme Court is authorized to impose disciplinary action against lawyers, including suspension or disbarment. The proceedings are thus judicial in nature. (Ibid.)

In the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession. The Supreme Court likewise aims to ensure the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who, by their misconduct, have proven themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of an attorney. (Aniñon v. Sabitsana, A.C. No. 5098, 11 April 2012)

a) Motu proprio

Disbarment proceedings may be instituted motu proprio. (Section 1, Rule 139-B, Rules of Court)

The argument of the lawyer that complainant has no legal personality to sue him is unavailing. Section 1, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court provides that proceedings for the disbarment, suspension, or discipline of attorneys may be taken by the Supreme Court motu proprio or by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines upon the verified complaint of any person. The right to institute a disbarment proceeding is not confined to clients nor is it necessary that the person complaining suffered injury from the alleged wrongdoing. Disbarment proceedings are matters of public interest and the only basis for judgment is the proof or failure of proof of the charges. The evidence submitted by complainant before the Commission on Bar Discipline sufficed to sustain its resolution and recommended sanctions. (Navarro v. Meneses, CBD A.C. No. 313, 30 January 1998)

It is in this light that we take a further look at the necessity of attaching a certification against forum shopping to a disbarment complaint. It would seem that the scenario sought to be avoided, i.e., the filing of multiple suits and the possibility of conflicting decisions, rarely happens in disbarment complaints considering that said proceedings are either “taken by the Supreme Court motu proprio, or by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) upon the verified complaint of any person.” Thus, if the complainant in a disbarment case fails to attach a certification against forum shopping, the pendency of another disciplinary action against the same respondent may still be ascertained with ease. The Supreme Court has previously held that the rule requiring a certification of forum shopping to accompany every initiatory pleading, “should not be interpreted with such absolute literalness as to subvert its own ultimate and legitimate objective or the goal of all rules of procedure—which is to achieve substantial justice as expeditiously as possible.” (Pena v. Aparicio, A.C. No. 7298, 25 June 2007)

b) Complainant not indispensable

The complainant in disbarment cases is not a direct party to the case but a witness who brought the matter to the attention of the Court. Flowing from its sui generis character, it is not mandatory to have a formal hearing in which the complainant must adduce evidence. From all these, we find it clear that the complainant is not indispensable to the disciplinary proceedings and her failure to appear for cross-examination or to provide corroborative evidence of her allegations is of no merit. What is important is whether, upon due investigation, the IBP Board of Governors finds sufficient evidence of the respondent’s misconduct to warrant the exercise of its disciplinary powers. (Ylaya v. Gacott, A.C. No. 6475, 39 January 2013)

b. Prescription of actions

1) Not subject to prescription

Administrative cases against lawyers do not prescribe. The lapse of considerable time from the commission of the offending act to the institution of the administrative complaint will not erase the administrative culpability of a lawyer. Otherwise, members of the bar would only be emboldened to disregard the very oath they took as lawyers, prescinding from the fact that as long as no private complainant would immediately come forward, they stand a chance of being completely exonerated from whatever administrative liability they ought to answer for. (Bengco v. Bernardo, A.C. No. 6368, 13 June 2012)

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