A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200, (formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2834-RTJ),
April 2, 2014
ANTONIO M. LORENZANA, Complainant,
vs. JUDGE MA. CECILIA I. AUSTRIA, Regional Trial Court,
Branch 2, Batangas City, Respondent.
See - http://www.lawphil.net/judjuris/juri2014/apr2014/am_rtj-09-2200_2014.html
"x x x.
On the Ground of Impropriety
We are not unaware of the increasing prevalence of social networking sites in the Internet – a new medium through which more and more Filipinos communicate with each other.45 While judges are not prohibited from becoming members of and from taking part in social networking activities, we remind them that they do not thereby shed off their status as judges. They carry with them in cyberspace the same ethical responsibilities and duties that every judge is expected to follow in his/her everyday activities. It is in this light that we judge the respondent in the charge of impropriety when she posted her pictures in a manner viewable by the public.
Lest this rule be misunderstood, the New Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a judge from joining or maintaining an account in a social networking site such as Friendster. Section 6, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct recognizes that judges, like any other citizen, are entitled to freedom of expression. This right "includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."46 Joining a social networking site is an exercise of one’s freedom of expression. The respondent judge’s act of joining Friendster is, therefore, per se not violative of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.
Section 6, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, however, also imposes a correlative restriction on judges: in the exercise of their freedom of expression, they should always conduct themselves in a manner that preserves the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
This rule reflects the general principle of propriety expected of judges in all of their activities, whether it be in the course of their judicial office or in their personal lives. In particular, Sections 1 and 2 of Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct prohibit impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities:
SECTION 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.
SECTION 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.
Based on this provision, we hold that the respondent disregarded the propriety and appearance of propriety required of her when she posted Friendster photos of herself wearing an "off-shouldered" suggestive dress and made this available for public viewing.
To restate the rule: in communicating and socializing through social networks, judges must bear in mind that what they communicate – regardless of whether it is a personal matter or part of his or her judicial duties – creates and contributes to the people’s opinion not just of the judge but of the entire Judiciary of which he or she is a part. This is especially true when the posts the judge makes are viewable not only by his or her family and close friends, but by acquaintances and the general public.
Thus, it may be acceptable for the respondent to show a picture of herself in the attire she wore to her family and close friends, but when she made this picture available for public consumption, she placed herself in a situation where she, and the status she holds as a judge, may be the object of the public’s criticism and ridicule. The nature of cyber communications, particularly its speedy and wide-scale character, renders this rule necessary.
We are not also unaware that the respondent’s act of posting her photos would seem harmless and inoffensive had this act been done by an ordinary member of the public. As the visible personification of law and justice, however, judges are held to higher standards of conduct and thus must accordingly comport themselves.47
This exacting standard applies both to acts involving the judicial office and personal matters. The very nature of their functions requires behavior under exacting standards of morality, decency and propriety; both in the performance of their duties and their daily personal lives, they should be beyond reproach.48 Judges necessarily accept this standard of conduct when they take their oath of office as magistrates.
x x x."