SC: Lawyers must be honorable, fair, honest; must promote speedy justice

In the case of Judge Alpajora v. Atty. Calayan (A.C. No. 8208, January 10, 2018), the Supreme Court found the respondent lawyer guilty of failure to observe candor, fairness and good faith before the court and guilty of failure to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.

It cannot be gainsaid that candidness, especially towards the courts, is essential for the expeditious administration of justice. Courts are entitled to expect only complete candor and honesty from the lawyers appearing and pleading before them. A lawyer, on the other hand, has the fundamental duty to satisfy that expectation. Otherwise, the administration of justice would gravely suffer if indeed it could proceed at all.

In his Motion for Reconsideration of the Resolution dated February 10, 2014 of the IBP Board of Governors, respondent wrote:
Anent, the Respondent's alleged commission of falsehood in his pleadings, suffice it to state that if certain pleadings prepared by the Respondent contained some allegations that turned out to be inaccurate, the same were nevertheless unintentional and only arose out of the Respondent's honest mis-appreciation of certain facts.
The records, however, showed that respondent's allegations were not brought about by mere inaccuracy. For one of his arguments against the complainant, respondent relied on Rule 9 of the Interim Rules of Procedure for Intra-Corporate Controversies which provides:
SECTION 1. Creation of a Management Committee. - As an incident to any of the cases filed under these Rules or the Interim Rules on Corporate Rehabilitation, A PARTY MAY APPLY for the appointment of a management committee for the corporation, partnership or association, when there is imminent danger of: xxx.
He stressed that the courts cannot motu proprio legally direct the appointment of a management committee when the Interim Rules predicate such appointment exclusively upon the application of a party in the complaint a quo.

By employing the term "exclusively" to describe the class of persons who can apply for the appointment of a management committee, respondent tried to mislead the Court. Lawyers are well aware of the tenor of a provision of law when "may" is used. "May" is construed as permissive and operating to confer discretion. Thus, when the Interim Rules stated that "a party may apply x x x," it did not connote exclusivity to a certain class. It simply meant that should a party opt for the appointment of such, it may do so. It does not, however, exclude the courts from ordering the appointment of a management committee should the surrounding circumstances of the case warrant such.
Further, as regards his alleged misquotation, respondent argues that he should have been cited in contempt. He found justification in Cortes vs. Bangalan, to wit:
x x x. The alleged offensive and contemptuous language contained in the letter-complaint was not directed to the respondent court. As observed by the Court Administrator, "what respondent should have done in this particular case is that he should have given the Court (Supreme Court) the opportunity to rule on the complaint and not simply acted precipitately in citing complainant in contempt of court in a manner which obviously smacks of retaliation rather than the upholding of a court's honor."

A judge may not hold a party in contempt of court for expressing concern on his impartiality even if the judge may have been insulted therein. While the power to punish in contempt is inherent in all courts so as to preserve order in judicial proceedings and to uphold the due administration of justice, judges, however, should exercise their contempt powers judiciously and sparingly, with utmost restraint, and with the end in view of utilizing their contempt powers for correction and preservation not for retaliation or vindication.
As correctly pointed out by the Investigating Commissioner, the jurisprudence quoted precisely cautions a judge against citing a party in contempt, which is totally contradictory to the position of respondent. He misrepresented the text of a decision, in violation of the CPR.Moreover, in defense of the multiple pleadings he filed, respondent avers that there is no law or rule that limits the number of motions, pleadings and even cases as long as they are sufficient in form and substance and not violative of the prohibition against forum shopping. He maintains that his pleadings were filed in utmost good faith and for noble causes, and that he was merely exercising his constitutionally protected rights to due process and speedy disposition of cases.

Ironically, Atty. Calayan's indiscriminate filing of pleadings, motions, civil and criminal cases, and even administrative cases against different trial court judges relating to controversies involving CEFI, in fact, runs counter to the speedy disposition of cases. It frustrates the administration of justice. It degrades the dignity and integrity of the courts.

A lawyer does not have an unbridled right to file pleadings, motions and cases as he pleases. Limitations can be inferred from the following rules:
1. Rules of Court
  1. Rule 71, Section 3. Indirect Contempt to be Punished After Charge and Hearing. - After charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt: xxx

    (c) Any abuse of or any unlawful interference with the processes or proceedings of a court not constituting direct contempt under Section 1 of this Rule;

    (d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice; xxx
2. Code of Professional Responsibility
  1. Canon 1 - A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and for legal processes.
  2. Canon 10, Rule 10.03 - A lawyer shall observe the rules of procedure and shall not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.
  3. Canon 12 - A lawyer shall exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.
  4. Canon 12, Rule 12.04 - A lawyer shall not unduly delay a case, impede the execution of a Judgment or misuse Court processes.
Respondent justifies his filing of administrative cases against certain judges, including complainant, by relying on In Re: Almacen (Almacen). He claims that the mandate of the ruling laid down in Almacen was to encourage lawyers' criticism of erring magistrates.

In Almacen, however, it did not mandate but merely recognized the right of a lawyer, both as an officer of the court and as a citizen, to criticize in properly respectful terms and through legitimate channels the acts of courts and judges. In addition, the Court therein emphasized that these criticisms are subject to a condition, to wit:
But it is the cardinal condition of all such criticism that it shall be bona fide, and shall not spill over the walls of decency and propriety. A wide chasm exists between fair criticism, on the one hand, and abuse and slander of courts and the judges thereof, on the other. Intemperate and unfair criticism is a gross violation of the duty of respect to courts. It is such a misconduct that subjects a lawyer to disciplinary action.
Indubitably, the acts of respondent were in violation of his duty to observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers and his duty to never seek to mislead the judge or any judicial officer.

In his last ditch attempt to escape liability, respondent apologized for not being more circumspect with his remedies and choice of words. He admitted losing objectivity and becoming emotional while pursuing the cases involving him and the CEFI. The Supreme Court, however, reiterated that a lawyer's duty, is not to his client but primarily to the administration of justice. To that end, his client's success is wholly subordinate. His conduct ought to, and must always, be scrupulously observant of the law and ethics. Any means, not honorable, fair and honest which is resorted to by the lawyer, even in the pursuit of his devotion to his client's cause, is condemnable and unethical.

For having violated the CPR and the Lawyer's Oath, respondent's conduct should be meted with a commensurate penalty. Accordingly, Atty. Ronaldo Antonio V. Calayan is found GUILTY of violating The Lawyer's Oath and The Code of Professional Responsibility and he is hereby ordered SUSPENDED from the practice of law for two (2) years, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or a similar offense will warrant the imposition of a more severe penalty.

ADDITIONAL READINGS:
[1] Chavez vs. Viola, 273 Phil. 206, 211 (1991).
[2] Social Security Commission, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, 482 Phil. 449, 450 (2004).
[3] 379 Phil. 251 (2000).
[4] 142 Phil. 353 (1970).
[5] Sec. 20(b) and (d), Rule 138, Rules of Court.
[6] Rural Bank of Calape, Inc. Bohol vs. Florida, 635 Phil. 176, 180-181 (2010).

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