452 Phil. 957
"a. Civil Case No. 99-5398, Pablo B. Francisco vs. Benjamin Figueroa, RTC, Antipolo, Branch 73;In a resolution, dated 21 August 2002, the case, docketed Administrative Matter RTJ-02-1670, was referred by the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation. In the course of the investigation, several hearings were conducted during which the contending parties were allowed to testify and present their documentary and testimonial evidence. In the hearing of 26 November 2002, the letter-complaint against respondent Judge was subscribed and sworn to by complainant-spouses Gragera before Division Clerk Attorney Romelia Gonzales.
"b. Civil Case No. 00-022, Pablo B. Francisco vs. Rogelio Sanchez, MTC, Binangonan, Rizal, Branch 1;
"c. Civil Case No. 00-032, Pablo B. Francisco vs. Rolando Sanchez, MTC, Binangonan, Rizal, Branch 1;
"d. Civil Case No. 00-021, Pablo B. Francisco vs. Bernardo Persia, MTC, Binangonan, Rizal, Branch 2;
"e. Another civil case pending before Branch 69 of RTC, Binangonan, Rizal, the details of which have not yet been secured as of this date."
"Respondent Judge denied committing unauthorized practice of law. He contends that he was always represented by counsel in Civil Case No. 98-0019 and in the other ejectment cases which complainants charge that he was appearing in. His lawyers were, initially, Atty. Saladero, then Atty. Bernardo and Atty. Recio. Presently, he is represented in the foregoing cases by Atty. Amor Mia J. Francisco. It is further submitted that in the other ejectment cases where he allegedly appears, respondent Judge is the plaintiff therein and appears in the hearings only as a private individual protecting his rights.In its report, dated 15 November 2001, the OCA gave its own evaluation; to wit:
"Moreover, respondent maintains that his appearances in the foregoing cases do not prejudice the dispensation of justice in his sala as shown by the monthly report of cases in the RTC Sta. Cruz, Laguna — Br. 26 (Exhibits 32 — 32FF). Respondent testified that judges are allowed a total of thirty (30) days vacation leave per year and he always files his leave before appearing in the subject cases.
"However, he admits that there were several instances when he prepared the pleadings and signed them himself allegedly by force of circumstances and to avoid prejudice to the principal plaintiff, Luisa Francisco Gonzales.
"Indeed, evidence presented by complainants show that there are occasions when respondent Judge himself would sign the pleadings in the aforestated cases."
"It appears from the record of the case that Atty. Remigio Saladero, Jr., the lawyer who signed the complaint, never represented respondent during court hearings. Thus, the appearance of Atty. Reynaldo Bernardo as collaborating counsel after more than two (2) years from the time the case was filed. In the meantime, it was respondent who acted as counsel and signed pleadings submitted in court. It is therefore undeniably clear that respondent engaged in the practice of law as evidenced by the minutes of the hearings and the motions filed in court."The OCA and the investigating Justice both recommended the imposition of a fine of P5,000.00 against respondent Judge for unauthorized practice of law.
"Rule 5.07. A judge shall not engage in the private practice of law. Unless prohibited by the Constitution or law, a judge may engage in the practice of any other profession provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with judicial functions."The proscription against the private practice of law, or just giving professional advice to clients, by Judges is based on public policy. The prohibition applies equally well to the appointment of and acceptance by judges to the post of attorney-in-fact in actual litigations, a fact which is also, by and large, incompatible with the high office, functions, prestige and privileges of a judge. It is of no moment, albeit worse, that the case where he accepts such designation as attorney-in-fact is one that pends before his own court. The mere perception that the judge might or could unduly influence the conduct, as well as the outcome of the case, can undermine, or compromise in the eyes of the public at the very least, the integrity and independence of the court. Thus, it is often said, a judge should avoid not only an actual impropriety but also even the appearance of impropriety.