SC Dismisses Court Employee, Suspends Lawyer Involved in Annulment of Marriage Scam

March 24, 2019

In two separate decisions, the Supreme Court recently dismissed a court stenographer who, among others, falsified a decision on annulment of marriage as well as suspended a lawyer who failed to file a petition for annulment of marriage despite receiving payment from her client.

In a six-page per curiam decision, the Court En Banc also ordered the forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, of Cesar C. Calpo, Court Stenographer III, Regional Trial Court of Cavite City, Branch 16, who it found guilty of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty. Likewise, it ordered his perpetual disqualification from re-employment from public office, without prejudice to the filing of appropriate criminal and civil cases.

The administrative case against Calpo stemmed from the complaint of Philippine Coast Guard member Zenmond D. Duque. According to Duque, Calpo, in 2010, voluntarily offered his services to help secure an annulment of Duque’s marriage forP150,000, paid in three equal installments as evidenced by receipts duly signed by Calpo. A year later, Calpo gave Duque a decision purportedly issued by Executive Judge Perla V. Cabrera-Faller of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Dasmariñas Cavite, Branch 90 granting the annulment of Duque’s marriage. Duque, however, subsequently learned that there was no such case and that Judge Cabrera-Faller had not issued any such decision as her signature on the decision was a forgery.

The Court adopted the findings and recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator and the investigating judge.

“[Calpo’s] actuations clearly demonstrate an intent to violate the law or a persistent disregard of well-known rules. Respondent deceived complainant into believing he had the power to obtain an annulment order in complainant’s favor. Receiving money from complainant, on the consideration that he can obtain a favorable decision from the court, falsifying a court decision, and forging the signature of the trial judge, undeniably constitute grave misconduct and serious dishonesty,” the Court held.

The Court held that the imposable penalty for grave misconduct and serious dishonesty is the extreme penalty of dismissal from service, citing sec. 46, Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, which classifies the two transgressions as grave offenses.

In a seven-page decision penned by Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, the Court En Banc found Atty. Grace C. Buri guilty of violating Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, Rules 16.01 and 16.03 of Canon 16, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and imposed on her a two year suspension, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same would be dealt with more severely.

The Court also ordered Buri to pay P5,000 fine for failure to comply with the directives of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Commission on Bar Discipline and to return to complainant Pia Marie B. Go the P188,000 in legal fees within 90 days from the finality of this decision.

Go engaged Buri’s services in 2012 to file a petition for annulment of her marriage before the RTC of Muntinlupa forP150,000 as “package engagement fee” and professional services. Subsequently, Go asked Buri to “hold” her case as she had to deal with various personal problems to which Buri allegedly withdrew the petition for annulment supposedly filed before the RTC. When Go decided in 2015 to push through with the annulment, Buri asked for an additional P38,000 for the re-filing of the case.

Despite several demands, Buri failed to furnish Go with copies of the original and the re-filed petition for annulment and to issue receipts for the money Buri had received. Upon verification with the Office of the Clerk of Court of the RTC, Go learned that there was no petition filed by Buri on her behalf prompting her to file the instant administrative complaint against Buri.

The Court held that “[Buri’s] acts of neglecting her clients affairs, failing to return the latter’s money and/or property despite demand, and at the same time, committing acts of misrepresentation against her client, constitute professional misconduct for which she must be held administratively liable.”

The Court also clarified that it ordered Buri to return the P188,000 she received as legal fees as this is intrinsically linked to her professional engagement.

The Court found it “only proper” that Buri be meted the penalty of two years suspension as recommended by the IBP Board of Governors,” citing its decisions in Jinon v. Jiz and Agot v. Rivera. 

(A.C. No. 12296, Go v. Buri, December 4, 2018 / A.M. No. P-16-3505, Duque v. Calpo, January 22, 2019)