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The Court of Appeals (CA) dismisses contempt charges against attorney

MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) reversed a lower court decision in Rizal convicting a lawyer and her client of indirect contempt and ordering them to pay a PHP5,000 fine.

In a decision dated March 22, the CA’s Sixth Division dismissed an indirect contempt charge filed against lawyer Fay Isaguierre Singson by the Angono, Rizal Municipal Trial Court (MTC).

MTC Judge Katherine Jambaro-Altubar convicted Singson and her client Senior Fire Officer 3 (SFO3) Roberto Z. Tirona of indirect contempt for a statement made in a motion filed before the court, in which the lawyer sought the judge’s inhibition in her client’s case due to alleged bias, prejudice, and partiality.

Singson had previously represented Tirona in an estafa case before the court.

Singson alleged bias and partiality in her motion, citing an instance in which her client appeared in court without a lawyer and was allegedly advised that he would be better off being represented by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

Tirona later admitted in a statement that it was a court staff member, not the judge, who advised him to retain the services of PAO.

Singson stated in her petition to the CA that she was not present during the incident and relied solely on her client, Tirona’s, narration. She stated that she had no reason at the time not to believe her client’s claim that he was instructed by the judge to obtain a new lawyer.

A regional trial court (RTC) ruling in 2019 upheld the MTC’s finding of indirect contempt against the lawyer and client, prompting her to appeal to the CA.

The CA dismissed the contempt charge, stating that the lawyer relied on her client’s statement in good faith.

Her client did not contest his guilt for indirect contempt, which the CA stated “could be interpreted as an admission that the fault for the false allegation (against the judge) rested entirely with him.”

The tribunal added that the court’s contempt power “must be exercised judiciously and sparingly with the utmost self-restraint with the intention of using it for correction and preservation of the court’s dignity, not for retaliation or vindication,” and that it should not be used “unless absolutely necessary in the interest of justice.”

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