Disbarment as quasi-executive proceeding

Disbarment and other disciplinary cases against lawyers, judges, justices and court employees are NOT judicial proceedings. They are sui generis cases.

There are three (3) kinds of judicial proceedings: civil, criminal and special proceedings. Special civil actions are considered ordinary civil proceedings. However, disbarment and disciplinary cases in the judiciary cannot fall under any of these three (3) because they are in the exercise of the Supreme Court's quasi-executive powers within the Judicial Branch.

According to Section 6 of Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof. Under Section 5(5), the Court has the power to promulgate rules concerning pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts and regarding the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged.

"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."

Well-established is the rule that administrative cases against lawyers belong to a class of their own. These cases are distinct from and proceed independently of civil and criminal cases. In Re Almacen, the Court discoursed on this point thus:

"x x x [D]isciplinary proceedings [against lawyers] are sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, x x x [they do] not involve x x x a trial of an action or a suit, but [are] rather investigation[s] 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 prove[n] themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney. x x x." (A.C. No. 5321. September 27, 2006)
Disbarment proceedings are sui generis, they belong to a class of their own, and are distinct from that of civil or criminal actions. To be sure, a finding of liability in a civil case or a conviction in a criminal case is not necessary for finding a member of the bar guilty in an administrative proceeding. However, in the instant case, the civil and criminal cases involving the acts referred to in the proposed amended/supplemental complaint are still pending adjudication before the regular courts. Prudence dictates that the action of the Commission related to the proposed amended/supplemental complaint in the administrative case be sustained in order to avoid contradictory findings in that case and in the court cases.

The call for judiciousness stems from the need to ensure the smooth and orderly disposition of the related cases pending before the courts and the Commission and avert conflict in the rulings in the bar discipline case and in the judicial cases. Preemption of the regular courts by an administrative case is a worrisome spectacle. (G.R. No. 173940 September 5, 2006. Formerly CBD Case No. 02-967)