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The Supreme Court has reprimanded a judge for inappropriate social media statements.

MANILA – A La Union Regional Trial Court judge has been reprimanded by the Supreme Court for publishing images of himself half-dressed and showing his tattoo art.

The SC Second Division found Judge Romeo Atillo Jr. guilty of conduct unworthy of a judge in a decision released on May 13 and sharply warned that a repeat offense would be dealt with harsher.

“Be more careful in his official and personal activities with social media,” the Court advised the magistrate.

On Aug. 11, 2019, Atillo claimed his Facebook account was hacked and his privacy settings were changed from private to public.

He further stated that the images were solely for him and his buddies and that they were not intended for public access.

“Setting the privacy of posts or profile details is no guarantee that it can no longer be read by another user who is not Facebook friends with the author of the content,” the Court said.

When it comes to publishing content online, the Court stated that all social media users face the same risks.

“The Court encourages judges to be aware of what they communicate on social networking sites, regardless of whether it is a personal affair or a part of his or her judicial activities,” it stated.

The Office of the Court Administrator received printed copies of photos allegedly posted by Atillo and used as “cover photos” and “profile pictures” on Facebook (OCA).

When Atillo posted the subject images on his Facebook account, the OCA found him guilty of violating the New Code of Judicial Conduct and OCA Circular No. 173-2017, and recommended a PHP15,000 fine and a harsh warning.

The Court upheld the OCA’s findings but changed the penalty.

It concurred with the OCA that Atillo “breached his obligation to prevent impropriety, or even the impression of impropriety when he posted the subject images revealing his half-dressed body and tattooed torso on his Facebook account, which were widely accessible to the general public.”

The Court stated in Lorenzana v. Judge Austria that “although judges are not forbidden from becoming members of and participating in social networking activities, we remind them that they do not lose their status as judges by doing so.”

In the Lorenzana case, the respondent judge was found guilty of impropriety when she publicly displayed images of herself wearing an “off-shoulder” suggestive garment on a social networking site.

The judge’s impropriety is purely related to his “act of uploading the subject picture on social media, and it has absolutely nothing to do with his choice to have tattoos on his body,” according to the Court.

“To put it another way, by putting the images on Facebook, [the respondent judge] put himself in a position where he, and the prestige he possesses as a sitting judge, became the target of public criticism and mockery,” the SC wrote.

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