May 24, 2024

(Editors’ note: The Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Oct. 6, 2013.)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Cereno is asking members of the legal profession to expose hoodlums in robes or crooked judges. But the Chief Justice was a law practitioner before her appointment to the High Court, so she might have come across one or two corrupt magistrates in the course of her law practice.
Come to think of it, practically all Justices of the Supreme Court were legal practitioners prior to joining the Judiciary. But did any of them run to the Highest Court of the land to report crooked judges? Well, the implication is this – there were no hoodlums in robes during their early lawyering years, or the request of the Chief Justice was prompted by a proliferation of erring magistrates in today’s troubled times.

Now what is it about the horse after the barn has burned down, or about teaching others to fish and not just giving him fish? In other words, the flaw should be addressed by the High Court itself, and not passed on to the law practitioners.

The following story is a case in point.
When I was still a private practitioner – this was in the 79s or 80s – a client of mine called me up wanting to discuss an urgent and delicate matter, and if we could meet for breakfast the next day.
As per his narration, the judge hearing his case had instructed his clerk of court two days earlier to fetch my client and bring him to the judge’s chambers at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The clerk of court made it very clear that should my client refuse, the consequences would be dire. Upon meeting with the judge, the latter told my client that the evidence against him was pretty strong, and he could be facing a 10 to 20 years prison term.
The judge soon added that he could get him off the hook, provided he would be able to cough up P40,000, an amount which the judge claimed he needed for his operation. Hearing this, my client’s mouth came agape, so the judge whittled down the amount to P20,000, take it or leave it.

My client, the miser that he was, pleaded with the judge, claiming he could only raise P20,000 within the week. “Okay, fine,” the judge replied, “When you have the money give it to my clerk here, and add a thousand or two for his troubles.”
As my client was being escorted out of the judge’s chamber, the clerk whispered in his ears that he expected the amount of P22,000 by Friday (the bastard). Anyway, my client wanted my advice as to what to do – snitch on the judge and report him to higher authority and save his money, or …

I told my client if we report the judge, his case would just be raffled to another court, and since judges, although having no love lost for one another, nonetheless tend to be protective of their own kind, meaning the new judge may not look kindly upon him, and he could end up in jail after a judgment of guilty.
Besides, it will be your word, I added, against the word of the judge and his clerk, and they can make it appear you were the one offering the bribe, and it was their refusal that made you act the way you did. Now since it is your life, or more precisely, your liberty which is at stake, I suggest that you give your problem a little more though. However, you decide, this conversation never took place.

When the date of the promulgation came, I asked my client if he was ready. He smiled and nodded his head. After the decision of acquittal was read by the clerk, the judge opted to lend a little drama to his own vaudeville, and said to the attending fiscal, “The evidence was quite weak, don’t you think so, fiscal?” He then turned to my client and boomed, “You are lucky you have a very good lawyer.” The fiscal, who was a lady, appeared to smile knowingly as my face flushed a beet red.

In sum, practicing lawyers can live with crooked judges. After all, they are fair game. Believe it or not, most clients would suggest to their counsels to just bribe the presiding judge and get it over with.
Oh, going back to the horse and the fish, what I mean is that it is quite easy to become a judge. You only need to be a lawyer with the right connections. And most of the time, the applicants are just that. Fixing the system would be the better alternative. In short, all applications to the judiciary should pass a rigid exam including decision writing. Checking their background and academic credentials would be useful guides.

In truth, practicing lawyers are more concerned about arrogant judges, particularly those always playing god in their courtrooms, issuing orders or making statements in a tone of voice that they do not normally use (rather surprisingly), when talking to the lawyers outside of the courtroom. Somehow, some judges fail to see that showing a little respect and some slack to lawyers appearing before their salas likewise generates respect for them.
Happily, the new crop of judges in the city is of a different breed – intelligent, respectful, and apparently unbribable.