Second of two parts
Not content with the already declared intent of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion to recuse themselves from the SC hearing on the SET decision, Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares is going for a homerun.
She wants the three justices disqualified from all her disqualification cases before the high court—the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and the two decisions by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to nullify her candidacy.
Just as she was not content with being a mere senator of the republic and went for broke by bidding for the highest office of the land, Ms. Poe is now bent on bending the Supreme Court to her will.
Just before the turn of the years, Senator Poe filed a motion before the SC on December 29, seeking the recusal of the 3 associate justices who voted against her in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).
Using the Justices’ dissent against them Ms. Poe used their votes in the SET ruling as her ground for moving for their recusal or disqualification in her other disqualification cases.
Her motion states:
“Justices Carpio, De Castro and Brion have already prejudged petitioner on the issue of her citizenship and therefore ought to inhibit.”
Ironically, until this ambitious bid for a homerun, it was considered likely that the three justices would voluntarily recuse themselves from the SC review of the SET ruling.
A terrible miscalculation
In moving to disqualify the three justices from all her cases, Senator Poe is gambling that with these justices out of the way, she will have (1) a better chance of keeping her seat in the Senate; and (2) a fair chance of keeping her presidential candidacy alive.
This is a terrible miscalculation on her part. It practically guarantees now that Justices Carpio, De Castro, and Brion will keenly take part in the SC hearings of her Comelec cases. Recusal is an individual decision – a matter of conscience – for the justices concerned.
It highlights Ms. Poe’s burden of proving her grounds for disqualification, which are required under the New Code of Judicial Conduct, which was promulgated by the Supreme Court in 2004.
It could lead to a reversal of the three justices’ plan to recuse themselves from the SET case.
Petitioners can also file a motion, stating that their recusal would result in “a denial of their constitutional right to have a question, properly presented to the court, adjudicated.”
Specific grounds of disqualification
The provisions for the recusal of judges, including justices, under the new code of Judicial Conduct are contained in the canon on impartiality.
The specific grounds for disqualification are enumerated in Section 5 of the Canon, to wit:
“Section 5: Judges shall disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are unable to decide the matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are unable to decide the matter impartially. Such proceedings include instances where:
(a) The judge has actual bias or prejudice concerning a party or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceedings;
In People vs. Gomez, the Supreme Court held that “The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not sufficient for a judge to inhibit, especially when the charge is without basis. It must be proven with clear and convincing evidence.”
(b) The judge previously served as a lawyer or was a material witness in the matter in controversy.
(c) The judge or a member of his or her family, has an economic interest in the outcome of the matter in controversy.
(d) The judge served as executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or lawyer in the case or matter in controversy.
(e) The judge’s ruling in a lower court is the subject of review;
(f) The judge is related by consanguinity or affinity to a party litigant within the sixth civil degree or to counsel within the fourth civil degree.
The duty to sit
SECTION 3 of the canon provides that judges shall, so far as is reasonable, so conduct themselves as to minimize the occasions on which it will be necessary for them to be disqualified from hearing or deciding cases. Judges may, in their exercise of sound discretion, restrict themselves voluntarily from sitting in a case, but such a decision should be based on good, sound or ethical grounds, or for just and valid reasons. It is not enough that a party casts some tenuous allegations of partiality at the judge. Thus, it is imperative that judges ensure that they would not be unnecessarily disqualified from a case. This is sometimes referred to as the “duty to sit.”
In Parayno vs. Meneses, the Supreme Court explained the nature of the voluntary inhibition expected of a judge: “The majority view is that the rule of disqualification of judges must yield to demands of necessity. Actual disqualification of a member of a court of last resort will not excuse the member from performing his official duty if failure to do so would result in a denial of a litigant’s constitutional right to have a question, properly presented to the court, adjudicated.”
The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not sufficient for a judge to inhibit, especially when the charge is without basis. It must be proven with clear and convincing evidence.
Clear and convincing evidence
This is where Grace Poe now finds herself. To make her case for recusal of the three justices, she must prove with clear and convincing evidence her charge of bias and partiality against the justices.
Their dissenting votes in the SET ruling do not qualify as clear and convincing evidence. Indeed, they prove the contrary – that the nation needs them to do their duty, by joining the entire Supreme Court in settling with finality her eligibility to run for president.
US policy and practice on recusal
If the rules seem tough on Grace Poe the foundling, consider the recusal standards and practices of her former country, the United States.
In a comprehensive paper, “Recusal and the Supreme Court,” Debra Bassett lists down the key characteristics of the US Supreme Court’s approach to the recusal of justices:
1. Some supreme court justices have adamantly refused to recuse themselves in controversial cases
2. Recusal motions are uncommon in the Supreme
Court; indeed, the Court appears to effectively discourage such motions from parties appearing before the Court.
3. Short of a constitutional due process violation, recusal should remain where it essentially is now—resting with the conscience of each individual justice.
3. Recusal or disqualification can play no more than a limited role in improving the quality of court decisions. The way to get good decisions is to enact good laws, to appoint good judges, and to provide effective access to courts, fair procedures, and meaningful appellate review.
4. It is in the country’s best interests to have all nine Justices participating in the Court’s cases rather than insisting on a strict recusal standard that would prevent a Justice’s participation for less than truly compelling reasons.
Justices will not recuse
As I was finalizing part 2 of this series, I took an early look at yesterday’s edition of the Times.
Lo and behold it carried as its headline the news that the three justices, Carpio, De Castro and Brion, will stay put on Poe’s disqualification cases.
Written by Senior Reporter Jomar Canlas, the news reports that the three justices are standing their ground and will participate in the hearings.
The justices maintained that Poe’s disqualification case will be decided by the high court based on its merits and that the three justices will participate, deliberate and vote on the issue.
There will be no homerun for Grace Poe.