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SC suspends lawyer involved in annulment of marriage scam

MANILA — The Supreme Court, in two separate decisions, penalized personalities involved in an annulment of marriage scam.

A court stenographer who falsified a decision on annulment of marriage was dismissed, while a lawyer who failed to file a petition for annulment of marriage despite receiving payment from her client, was suspended.

In a six-page per curiam decision, the Court En Banc also ordered the forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, of Cesar C. Calpo, Court Stenographer III, Regional Trial Court of Cavite City, Branch 16, who it found guilty of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty.

Calpo is also perpetually disqualified from reemployment in any public office prejudice to the filing of appropriate criminal and civil cases.

The case against Calpo stemmed from a complaint of Philippine Coast Guard member Zenmond D. Duque.

According to Duque, in 2010, Calpo voluntarily offered his services to help secure an annulment of Duque’s marriage for P150,000, paid in three equal installments as evidenced by receipts duly signed by Calpo.

A year later, Calpo gave Duque a decision purportedly issued by Executive Judge Perla V. Cabrera-Faller of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Dasmariñas Cavite, Branch 90 granting the annulment of Duque’s marriage.

Duque, however, later learned that there was no such case and that the Cabrera-Faller did not issue such decision, as her signature on the decision was forged.

“[Calpo’s] actuations clearly demonstrate an intent to violate the law or a persistent disregard of well-known rules. Respondent deceived complainant into believing he had the power to obtain an annulment order in complainant’s favor. Receiving money from complainant, on the consideration that he can obtain a favorable decision from the court, falsifying a court decision, and forging the signature of the trial judge, undeniably constitute grave misconduct and serious dishonesty,” the Court said.

Meanwhile, in a seven-page decision penned by Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, the Court En Banc found Atty. Grace C. Buri guilty of violating Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, Rules 16.01 and 16.03 of Canon 16, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and imposed on her a two-year suspension, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same would be dealt with more severely.

Buri is also ordered to pay P5,000 fine for failure to comply with the directives of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Commission on Bar Discipline and to return the legal fees paid by the complainant within 90 days.

Complainant Pia Marie B. Go engaged Buri’s services in 2012 to file a petition for annulment of her marriage before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.

She paid P150,000 as “package engagement fee” and professional services.

Go later asked Buri to “hold” her case due to various personal problems. Buri then allegedly withdrew the petition for annulment she supposedly filed before the court.

When Go decided to push through with the annulment in 2015, Go asked for an additional P38,000 to re-file the case.

Buri failed to furnish Go with copies of the original and re-filed petition for annulment, as well as to issue receipts for the money she received from her client.

It was later revealed that no such petition was filed in court.

“[Buri’s] acts of neglecting her clients affairs, failing to return the latter’s money and/or property despite demand, and at the same time, committing acts of misrepresentation against her client, constitute professional misconduct for which she must be held administratively liable,” the Court said.