SC orders disciplinary evaluation of Napoles lawyer Stephen David
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered disciplinary evaluation of Stephen David, lead counsel of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Reason? His supposed role in an incident that involved the solicitation and payment of P20,000 to a Sandiganbayan security guard at the height of pork scam hearings in 2014.
In a decision last July 11, the SC en banc asked the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) to evaluate and recommend actions on David's non-participation in the investigation. The OBC is tasked to process disciplinary complaints against lawyers.
In the same decision, the en banc found Sandiganbayan security guard Ronald Allan Gole Cruz guilty of improper solicitation and ordered his dismissal from service and forfeiture of retirement benefits.
This was after other security officials of the anti-graft court reported via a letter to Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang that their colleague Cruz had solicited and received money from David. (READ: Who are the lawyers of Janet Lim Napoles?)
'Pamasko for the boys'
According to court records, Cruz asked a television news cameraman to hand over a solicitation envelope to David, supposedly for the Christmas party of the court security team. The cameraman, Dave Gonzales of TV5, said he obliged "only out of pakikisama" although he did not know what the envelope was for.
On December 1, 2014, David supposedly told security guards posted at the back entrance – Cruz not one of them – that he would give back the envelope the next day; that it was a "pamasko (Christmas gift) for the boys." One of the guards David talked to alerted their superiors, who in turn, reported it to Justice Tang.
"It appears that several security personnel discovered that Cruz had received the amount of P20,000 from Atty David inside a comfort room in the Sandiganbayan, just after a hearing for the case of Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Ms Napoles," the en banc decision said.
Cruz denied in his sworn statement that he solicited or received money from David, and said that the guards who reported him had an "axe to grind." The Sandiganbayan elevated the administrative case against Cruz to the SC.
The High Court said that because it was an administrative case, "the quantum of proof necessary for a finding of guilt is only substantial evidence, or such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
"This requirement has been met in this case...Cruz could only proffer the defense of denial. However, mere denial if unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, has no weight in law and cannot be given greater evidentiary value," the en banc said. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom 'in less than 2 years')
Strike 2 for David
The SC said that David "did not give any statement on the matter" although he attended a clarificatory hearing for the fact-finding investigation.
"Atty David, who is in the best position to state whether Cruz received money from him through improper solicitation, has chosen to remain silent and refused to give his statement," the en banc said.
"He is under obligation to shed light on the truth or falsity of the issue, considering that he is at the center of the controversy," the SC said.
The High Court also noted that this is strike 2 for the Napoles lawyer, referring to an administrative case in 2009 where he and wife Lanee David were found guilty of indirect contempt of court.
It was a case against Judge Divina Luz Aquino-Simbulan of the San Fernando City, Pampanga Regional Trial Court (RTC) where lawyers Stephen and Lanee "were charged with crafting a complaint and incorporating unfounded accusations against a judge in order to conceal their inadequacies in handling of their client's case before that judge."
The David couple was issued in 2009 a "stern warning that the commission of a similar offense shall be dealt with more severely for making a mockery of the judicial system."
In its July decision, the SC en banc referred "to the Office of the Bar Confidant for evaluation and recommendation the apparent obstinacy and refusal of Atty Stephen David to cooperate in the investigation regarding the solicitation of Cruz."
The OBC was directed to submit a report to the SC within 30 days from receipt.
The decision was penned by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno with concurrences from 10 justices. Associate Justice Samuel Martires – who was still with the Sandiganbayan during the incident – did not take part in the voting. Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Francis Jardeleza were on leave.
Stephen David still handles Napoles cases. He is currently in charge of the fresh pork scam complaints set to be filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) in line with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre's reinvestigation that targets allies of the past administration.
Lanee David, who used to handle the tax charges of Napoles' daughter Jeane, has withdrawn from the cases after being appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
Stephen David has not responded to Rappler's request for comment as of posting time. – Rappler.com