Contempt, suspension proceedings must be separate

Contempt and suspension proceedings are supposed to be separate and distinct. They have different objects and purposes for which different procedures have been established. A judge who thinks that a lawyer committed contempt against the court should conduct separate proceedings therefor.[1] As held in the case of People v. Godoy,[2] thus:
A contempt proceeding for misbehavior in court is designed to vindicate the authority of the court; on the other hand, the object of a disciplinary proceeding is to deal with the fitness of the court's officer to continue in that office, to preserve and protect the court and the public from the official ministrations of persons unfit or unworthy to hold such office. The principal purpose of the exercise of the power to cite for contempt is to safeguard the functions of the court and should thus be used sparingly on a preservative and not, on the vindictive principle. The principal purpose of the exercise of disciplinary authority by the Supreme Court is to assure respect for orders of such court by attorneys who, as much as judges, are responsible for the orderly administration of justice.

x x x. It has likewise been the rule that a notice to a lawyer to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt cannot be considered as a notice to show cause why he should not be suspended from the practice of law, considering that they have distinct objects and for each of them a different procedure is established. Contempt of court is governed by the procedures laid down under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, whereas disciplinary actions in the practice of law are governed by file 138 and 139 thereof.
Thus, in the case of Rodriguez v. Blancaflor,[3] it was found by the supreme Court that it was grossly improper for Judge Blancaflor to consider his order of contempt charge as the notice required in the disciplinary proceedings suspending petitioners from practice of law.

Granting that the simultaneous conduct of contempt and suspension proceedings is permitted, the suspension of petitioners must still fail.

The Supreme Court is not unmindful of a judge's power to suspend an attorney from practice for just cause pursuant to Section 28, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court. Judge Blancaflor, however, must be reminded that the requirements of due process must be complied with, as mandated under Section 30, Rule 138 of the same Rules which specifically provides, viz:

Sec. 30. Attorney to be heard before removal or suspension. - No attorney shall be removed or suspended from the practice of his profession, until he has had full opportunity upon reasonable notice to answer the charges against him, to produce witnesses in his own behalf, and to be heard by himself or counsel. But if upon reasonable notice he fails to appear and answer the accusation, the court may proceed to determine the matter ex parte.

Indeed, a lawyer may be disbarred or suspended for any misconduct showing any fault or deficiency in his moral character, honesty, probity or good demeanor. His guilt, however, cannot be presumed. It must indicate the dubious character of the acts done, as well as the motivation thereof. Furthermore, a disbarred lawyer must have been given full opportunity upon reasonable notice to answer the charges against him, produce witnesses in his own behalf, and to be heard by himself and counsel.[4]

In Rodriguez v. Blancaflor, there was no prior and separate notice issued to petitioners setting forth the facts constituting the misconduct and requiring them, within a specified period from receipt thereof, to show cause why they should not be suspended from the practice of their profession. Neither were they given full opportunity to defend themselves, to produce evidence on their behalf and to be heard by themselves and counsel. Undoubtedly, the suspension proceedings against petitioners are null and void, having violated their right to due process.[5]

Likewise, Judge Blancaflor's suspension order is also void as the basis for suspension is not one of the causes that will warrant disciplinary action. Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules enumerates the grounds for disbarment or suspension of a member of the Bar from his office as attorney, to wit: (1) deceit, (2) malpractice, (3) gross misconduct in office, (4) grossly immoral conduct, (5) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, (6) violation of the lawyer's oath, (7) willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, and for (8) willfully appearing as an attorney for a party without authority to do so. Judge Blancaflor failed to show that the suspension was for any of the foregoing grounds.[6]


[2] 312 Phil. 977, 1032, 1033 (1995).

[3] G.R. No. 190171, March 14, 2011.

[4] Re: Administrative Case No. 44 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch IV, Tagbilaran City, Against Atty. Samuel C. Occena, 433 Phil. 138, 154 (2002).

[5] G.R. No. 190171, March 14, 2011.

[6] G.R. No. 190171, March 14, 2011.