SC metes 6-month suspension from practice of law on Castro
The Supreme Court has suspended Cebu City Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro from the practice of law for six months for forum shopping, or filing multiple cases involving the same parties and with essentially one relief sought, when she filed two separate petitions for the annulment of marriage in two different courts.
Castro is currently serving a six-month suspension starting last March 16 and will end on September 17, 2016. The 6-month suspension meted to her by the Supreme Court, however, will extend the first suspension because she is not allowed to practice law for six months and her job as a prosecutor involves the practice of law.
The administrative case (A.C. No. 9871) stemmed from the report on the Judicial Audit conducted at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 60 in Barili, Cebu, then presided over by Judge Ildefonso Suerte where the matter of filing the two separate petitions were discovered.
Castro was married to Rocky Rommel Roa on March 30, 1993 and they begot two children.
Seven years later, on June 5, 2000, Castro filed a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage on the grounds of psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code. The petition was filed with RTC Branch 56 in Mandaue City.
The decision dated April 24, 2001 granted the petition and declared the marriage between Castro and her husband null and void.
But the Office of the Solicitor General appealed the RTC decision to the Court of Appeals. The CA decision found certain irregularities in the trial proceedings and remanded the case back to the RTC in order to give Roa the opportunity to present evidence.
When the case was remanded to the RTC, Castro filed a Motion to Dismiss the petition on December 11. 2003, saying the “continuation of the trial would mean extra effort, time and money” that would dwindle her income.
Before the Motion could be resolved, however, Castro filed another Petition for Annulment of Marriage on November 20, 2003 with RTC Branch 60 in Barili, Cebu, grounded on fraud through concealment of drug addiction and habitual alcoholism.
The second petition did not state the pendency of the first petition in the Verification and Certification of Non-Forum Shopping.
RTC Branch 60 granted the petition and declared the marriage between Castro and her husband as null and void.
The SC meanwhile, in an en banc resolution directed the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to look into Castro’s fitness as a member of the Bar or as a lawyer.
Then IBP Director for Bar Discipline Rogelio Vinluan ordered Castro to file her comment on the resolution.
Castro, on Feb. 22, 2007 in her comment said there was “no substantial irregularity when she filed the second annulment of marriage with another court” as the two petitions were rooted on two distinct issues.
The IBP however disagreed and said what Castro did in filing two separate petitions was a “deliberate violation of the rule against forum shopping…”
“Also, upon closer examination of the two actions, it shows that the respondent misled the courts in stating two different residence addresses in order to suit the jurisdictional requirements of filing the petitions in two different courts…” read the IBP decision quoted by the decision of the SC.
The IBP recommended a one-year suspension from the practice of law.
Affirm with Modification
The SC affirmed the decision of the IBP but modified the suspension period to six months with a warning that “a repetition of a similar act will be dealt with more severely.”
The six month suspension is effective from her receipt of the decision.
The decision penned by Associate Justice Francis Jardeliza read: “Lawyers should not trifle with judicial processes and resort to forum shopping because they have the duty to assist the courts in the administration of justice.”
“Filing multiple actions contravenes such duty because it does not only clog the court dockets, but also takes the courts’ time and resources from other cases.”
CDN tried to get Castro’s comment but she said she would not give any comment to CDN.
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