Seares: Crossing lines: lawyers in hazing death

THE lines are what the law and the code of conduct of lawyers provide. Are those well-defined enough for a lawyer to steer away from a situation where he could be publicly condemned or even thrown out of the profession?

There can be blurring of the lines. But not surprisingly, it often confuses only the lawyer who crosses them - and uses that to justify the deed or escape the sanction.

Cover-up plot

Horacio “Atio” Castillo III, a first-year law student of University of Sto. Tomas in Manila died in a hazing conducted by the Aegis Juris fraternity. He was inflicted with blows from a paddle, which led to his death last Sept. 17. His parents want to sue 19 members who plotted soon after the hazing to conceal or cover up the incident. And they are mostly lawyers or soon-to-be lawyers.

Unlike conspiracies in past cases, this time the technology used also documented the plot. Police learned details from social media: such messages as the call for “die-hard” frat members to meet, clean up the hazing site, remove the instrument of the crime and “deny, deny” were recorded from their group chat.

Support net

Perhaps state performance in prosecuting hazing cases (only one conviction since 1995) will improve. But these are lawyers or would-be lawyers police are dealing with and they have a network of family, friends and fraternity brothers to help them dodge the law.

What may draw public interest is how lawyers or future lawyers could be involved in attempting to conceal the crime, in which they are suspects as accomplices, if not direct participants.

Use of skills

What may partly explain it is that they don’t believe Atillo’s death was criminal, despite the anti-hazing law. And employing their knowledge of the law wouldn’t be unlike a doctor or an engineer using skills of the trade to commit or cover up a crime.

Not much different, though some shade thicker, from the case of Atty. Jonah John Ungab, the Ronda vice mayor, who lawyered for accused drug lord Roland “Kerwin” Espinosa.

Ungab alleged he was only giving legal advice to Kerwin who was also entitled to a lawyer. But up to where did that advice go and when did the lawyer become the drug protector that he was accused of? Police didn’t agree; they included him in the drug list and Ungab was still facing, along with two Leyte news reporters, a complaint before the Eastern Visayas DOJ office.

Incentive

That case offers the chance to look closely at how lawyers could still do their job without being tainted with the crime their clients are accused of.

Many lawyers refuse to defend that kind of a case. A few others thrive on it. The pay is much higher and, besides, they argue, why deprive the accused of the best legal defense their money can buy?

In the Castillo case, the incentive is the bond among those who are accused of killing a neophyte, which could be as compelling as a fat paycheck.

Same dark place

But the dilemma is similar. The lawyer may be reminded when the zeal to defend must stop. That is when he would find himself to the same dark place that the accused occupies.

He would need enough light to see the lines. But, seeing them, he might still leap across.
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