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VOL.

70, APRIL 7, 1976 389

Criticism of Courts-Proper Language to be Used

A N N O T A T I O N
CRITICISM OF COURTS-PROPER LANGUAGE TO BE USED

By
Atty. JORGE R. COQUIA

1. § 1.The Four-fold Duties of a Lawyer, p. 389.


2. § 2.Duty to the Courts Precedes all other
Duties, p. 390.

3. § 3.Respectful Attitude to Courts, p. 390.

4. § 4.Criticism of Courts, p. 391.


5. § 5.Right to criticize Courts as Freedom of
Speech and the Press, p. 392.

6. § 6.Use of Respectful Language, p. 393.


7. § 7.Intemperate Language in Pleadings as
Direct Contempt, p. 394.

8. § 8.Reckless Charges Against Judges, p. 396.

9. § 9.Effect of Apology of Counsel, p. 397.

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§ 1. The Four-fold Duties of a Lawyer

An attorney has four-fold duties, namely as an


officer of the court, his obligations to his client,
his duties to maintain respect and dignity to his
profession and his duty to the public.
These duties are reiterated and emphasized in the
objectives of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines,
namely:
1. 1.To assist in the administration of justice;
2. 2.Foster and maintain in the part of its
members high ideals

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Criticism of Courts-Proper Language to be Used

1. of integrity, learning, professional


competence, public service and conduct;
2. 3.Safeguard the professional interests of its
members;
3. 4.Cultivate among its members a spirit of
cordiality and brotherhood;
4. 5.Provide a forum for the discussion of law,
jurisprudence, law reform, pleading, practice
and procedure, and the relations of the Bar to
the Bench and to the public, and publish
information relating thereto;
5. 6.Encourage and foster legal education;
6. 7.Promote a continuing program of legal
research in substantive and adjective law, and
make reports and recommendations thereon, and
7. 8.Enable the Bar to discharge its public
responsibility effectively (In the Matter of the
Integration of the Bar of the
Philippines, Resolution dated January 9, 1973, 49
SCRA 22.)
§ 2. Duty to the Courts Precedes all other Duties

The public duties of an attorney takes precedence


over his other duties. His first duty is to the
courts. Where the duties to the Court conflict with
his duties to his client, the latter must yield to
the former (Lange vs. Borkowski,43 ALR 622).
Second only to the duty of maintaining allegiance
to the Republic of the Philippines and to support the
Constitution and obey the laws is the duty of all
attorneys to observe and maintain the respect due to
the courts of justice and judicial officers. A lawyer
must always remember that he is an officer of the
court exercising a high privilege and serving in the
noble mission of administering justice (Montecillo
vs. Gica, L-36800, October 21, 1974, 60 SCRA 234).
§ 3. Respectful Attitude to Courts

As an officer of the court, the lawyer has the duty


to uphold its dignity and authority. Respect to the
courts guarantees the stability of our democratic
institutions which without such respect would be
resting on a very shaky foundation. (In re Sotto, 82
Phil. 959).
The lawyer should maintain toward the courts a
respectful attitude (Rule 138, Section 20, Rules of
Court; People vs. Carillo, 77 Phil. 572; Rheem of the
Philippines vs. Ferrer, L-22979, June 26, 1967).
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That same canon makes it peculiarly incumbent upon


lawyers to support the courts against unjust
criticisms and clamor. The attorney’s oath solemnly
binds him to a conduct that should be with all good
fidelity to the courts. The duty of an attorney to
the courts can only be maintained by rendering no
service involving any disrespect to the judicial
office which he is bound to uphold (Surigao Mineral
Reservation Board vs. Cloribel, L-27071, January 9,
1970, 31 SCRA 1).
§ 4. Criticism of Courts

The general rule is that every citizen and so every


member of the Bar, has the right to comment upon the
rulings of a judicial officer in an action which has
been finally determined. When a case is finished,
judges are subject to criticism as other people (In
Re Gomez, 43 Phil. 376; In re Lozano, 54 Phil. 807).
In so criticizing the Court, however, the lawyer must
use respectful language. A lawyer may not attack a
court’s decision in words calculated to jetisson the
time-honored aphorism that courts are temples of
right. Lawyers may come up with various methods,
perhaps more effective, in calling the Court’s
attention to the issues involved. The language
vehicle does not run short of expression, emphatic
but respectful, convincing but not derogatory,
illuminating but not offensive (Rheem of the Phils.
vs. Ferrer, L-22979, June 26, 1967, 20 SCRA 441.)
The Supreme Court had admonished and punished, in
varying degrees, member of the Bar for statements,
disrespectful or irreverent, acrimonious or
defamatory, of the Court or lower courts. (See Perkins
vs. Perkins, 57 Phil. 223; Salcedo vs. Hernandez, 61
Phil. 724; Medina vs. Rivera, 66 Phil. 151; In re
Franco,67 Phil. 312; People vs. Carillo, 77 Phil.
372; In re Sotto, 82 Phil. 572; People vs.
Venturanza,98 Phil. 211; De Joya vs. Court of First
Instance of Rizal, 99 Phil. 907; Sison vs. Sandejas, L-
9270, April 29, 1959; Paragas vs.
Cruz, (Resolution), L-24433, July 30, 1965).
It is but to repeat an old idea when we say that
enthusiasm, or even excess of it, is not really bad.
In fact, the one or the other is no less a virtue, if
channelled in the right direction. However, it must
be circumscribed within the bounds propriety and due
regard for the proper place of courts in our system
of government (Salcedo vs. Hernandez,
supra,citing Cornejo vs. Tan, 85 Phil. 772; Paragas vs.
Cruz, supra.).
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§ 5. Right to Criticize Courts as Freedom of Speech and the Press

The right of free speech and free press include the


right to criticize judicial conduct. The
administration of the law is a matter of public
concern. Whether the law is wisely or badly enforced
is a fit subject for proper comment. If the people
cannot criticize a justice of the peace or a judge
the way he can any other public officer, public
opinion will be effectively muzzled. Attempt at
terrorization of public opinion on the part of the
judiciary would be tyranny of the basest sort (U.S.
vs. Bustos, 37 Phil. 731).
Whenever there is proper ground for serious
complaint against judicial officers, the lawyer
should submit his grievances to the proper
authorities. In such cases, such charges should be
encouraged and the person making them should be
protected (Canons of Professional Ethics, 1). Charges
properly made are considered privileged
communication.
Mere criticism or comment on the correctness or
wrongness, soundness or unsoundness of the decision
of the court in a pending case made in good faith may
be tolerated, because if well founded it may
enlighten the court and contributed to the correction
of an error if committed, but if it is not well taken
and obviously erroneous it should, in no way,
influence the court in reversing or modifying its
decision (In re Sotto,82 Phil. 595.).
Every citizen has the right to comment upon and
criticize the actuations of public officers. This
right is not diminished by the fact that the criticism
is aimed at a judicial authority or that it is
articulated by a lawyer (U.S. vs. Bustos, 37 Phil.
731; In re Gomez, 43 Phil. 376; Austria vs. Masaquel, L-
22536, Aug. 31, 1967; Cabansag vs. Fernandez, L-8974,
Oct. 18, 1957;) Such right is especially recognized
where the criticism concerns a concluded litigation
(In re Lozano, 54 Phil. 801; In re Abistado, 57 Phil.
668; People vs. Alarcon; In re Contempt Proceedings,
Mangahas, 69 Phil. 265) because then the courts
actuations are thrown open to public consumption
(Streibel vs. Figueras, 96 Phil. 321, cited in In re
Almacen L-27654, Feb. 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 562).
“Our decisions and all our official actions are
public property, and the press and the people have
undoubted right to comment on them criticize and
censure them as they see fit. Judicial
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officers like other public servants, must answer for


their official actions before the chancery of public
opinion.” (State vs. Bee Pub. Co., 83 N. W. 204, cited
in In re Almacen, supra).
Courts thus treat with forbearance and restraint a
lawyer who vigorously assail their actuations (U.S.
vs. Bustos, 37 Phil. 731; Cabansag vs. Fernandez, L-
18974, Oct. 18, 1957). As a citizen and officer of
the Court, every lawyer is expected not only to
exercise the right, but also to consider its duty to
expose the shortcomings and indiscretions of courts
and judges (State Board Examiners vs. Hart,116 N. W.
212).
An attorney does not surrender, in assuming the
important place accorded to him in the administration
of justice, his right as a citizen to criticize the
decisions of the courts in a fair and respectful
manner, and the independence of the bar, as well as
of the judiciary, has always been encouraged by the
courts (In re Ades, 6 F. Supp. 487).
§ 6. Use of Respectful Language

Notwithstanding his right to criticize courts, a


lawyer is still bound, as an officer of the Court, to
give due respect to judges in or out of court. While
the attorney owes an entire devotion to the client,
his duty to the Courts is no less sacred, and can
only be maintained by rendering no service involving
disrespect to the judicial office which he is bound
to uphold. (Javellana vs. Lutero, L-23956, July 21,
1967, 20 SCRA 717; Blanza vs. Arcangel, Adm. Case No.
492, September 5, 1967, 21 SCRA 1; Lualhati vs.
Albert, 57 Phil. 86; Salcedo vs. Hernandez, 61 Phil.
724).
A lawyer should observe courtesy and respect towards
judges who try his cases. As an officer of the court,
it is his sworn duty and moral duty to help build and
not destroy unnecessarily the high esteem and regard
towards the courts so essential to the proper
administration of justice (People vs. Carillo, L-283,
Oct. 30, 1946; Paras vs. Vailores, Adm. Case No. 439,
April 12, 1961, 1 SCRA 954).
An attorney is under special obligation to be
considerate and respectful in his conduct and
communication to a judge. He is an officer of the
court, and it is therefore his duty to uphold its
honor and dignity. Certain privileges attach to him
by reason of such official position. He may in the
trial of cases use language concerning witnesses, and
parties, and all matters and things in issue which
elsewhere and under other circumstances would be
libelous.
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It is a cardinal condition of all such criticism that


it shall be bonafide and shall not spillove the walls
of decency and propriety. A wide chasm exist between
fair criticism on the one hand, and abuse and all
candor of courts and judges thereof, on the other.
Intemperate and unfair criticism is a gross violation
of the duty of respect a lawyer over to the courts.
It is such a misconduct that make a lawyer subject to
disciplinary action (In re Almacen, supra.).
It has been said that a lawyer’s language should be
dignified in keeping with the dignity of the legal
profession. It is Sotto’s duty as a member of the Bar
to abstain from all offensive personality and to
advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or
reputation of a party or witness, unless required by
the justice of the case with which he is charged
(Section 20 (f) Rule 138, Rules of Court; Surigao
Mineral Reservation Board vs. Cloribel, L-11071,
January 9, 1972, 31 SCRA 1).
Where an attorney representing one of the parties
to litigation employs intemperate language in
hearings or in pleadings the remedy is to cite him
for contempt or take other administrative measures;
not being personally, a party to the action, he cannot
be subject to a counterclaim by reason of what he
says or does in his representative capacity (De Borja
vs. De Borja, L-6622, July 31, 1957).
§ 7. Intemperate Language in Pleadings as Direct Contempt

The offensive and disrespectful observation appears


to be an act of direct contempt or contempt in facie
curiae and could, therefore, be summarily punished
without hearing (Sec. 1, Rule 71, Rules of
Court; Salcedo vs. Hernandez, 61 Phil. 724; De Joya vs.
CFI of Rizal, 99 Phil. 907; Malolos vs. Reyes, 111
Phil. 1113; Sison vs. Sandejas, 105 Phil. 1279).
The fact that respondent Edillon was vexed and
frustrated by the actuations of Judges Reyes and
Ferandos was not a justification for him to fent his
spleen against this Court by needlessly making an
unfounded, offensive, abusive, vicious and uncalled
for animadversion on the dismissal resolution which
had already become final and which did not prejudice
him at all. Such a flagrant act of disrespect
constitutes direct contempt. It is contempt in facie
curiae committed with want on malice. The respondent
used his manifestation as a vehicle to
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gratify his maleficent desire to ridicule the Court’s


resolution (Hon. Pio Ferandos vs. Hon. Juan Y.
Reyes, et al., L-38502, May 30, 1975, 64 SCRA 270).

In In Re Velasquez, April 29, 1955, the Supreme Court


held in contempt a lawyer who, in his motion for
reconsideration filed in said Court, charged that the
high court affirmed the order of the lower court
allowing an answer filed 48 days after expiration of
the time for filing it because the lawyer who filed
it (Claro M. Recto) was a “big name” attorney and
that no other lawyer would been given such
consideration. The Court considered this derogatory
imputation as neither pertinent nor relevant to the
issues.
A lawyer was held in contempt for sending to a judge
the following telegram “Request set aside your orders
confiscation bond and my arrest being vindictive
abuse use of powers unjust malicious as you are the
offended party otherwise will charge you criminally,
civilly and administratively.” The telegram’s
language was dubbed by the Court as unbecoming of a
lawyer and violative of the lawyer’s oath (People vs.
Venturanza, “98 Phil. 211).
The submission of a motion, once previously denied
by the appellate court which had granted the motion
for new trial, and once previously denied by the trial
court asking for the disqualification of the judge on
a ground not provided, which motion the judgment
construed as misbehaviour intended to make the public
believe he was not capable of administering justice
to the accused, left the judge no other recourse, if
he was to maintain his self-respect, than to take
action in finding the attorney who presented the
motion for disqualification in contempt of court
(Lualhati vs. Albert, 57 Phil. 86).
The proffered surrender of his lawyer’s certificate
is, of course, purely potestative on Atty. Almacen’s
part. Unorthodox though it may seem, no statute, no
law, stands in its way. Beyond making the mere offer,
however, he want farther. In haughty and hoarse
language, he actually availed of the said move as a
vehicle for his vicious tirade against this Court.
The integrated entirety of his petition bristles with
vile insults all calculated to drive home his
contempt for and disrespect to the Court and its
members. Picturing his client as a “sacrificial
victim at the altar of hypocrisy,” he categorically
denounces the justice administered by this Court to
be not only blind “but also deaf and dumb.” With
unmitigated acerbity, he virtually rakes
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this Court and its members with verbal talons,


imputing to the Court the perpetration of “silent
injustices” and “short-cut justice” while at the same
time branding its members as “Calloused to pleas of
justice.” And true to his announced threat to argue
the cause of his client “in the people’s forum,” he
caused the publication in the papers of an account of
his actuations, in a calculated effort to startle the
public, stir up public indignation and disrespect
towards the Court. Called upon to make an
explanation, he expressed no regret, offered no
apology. Instead, with characteristic arrogance, he
rehashed and reiterated his vituperative attacks and,
alluding to the Scriptures, virtually tarred and
feathered the Court and its members as inveterate
hypocrites incapable of administering justice and
unworthy to impose disciplinary santions upon him.
The lawyer was suspended from the practice of law (In
re Almacen, L-27654, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 562).
§ 8. Reckless Charges Against Judges

It is appropriate to enjoin complainants and members


of the bar who file administrative complaints against
judges of inferior courts that they should do so after
proper circumspection and without the use of
disrespectful language and offensive personalities,
so as not to unduly burden the Court in the discharge
of its function of administrative supervision over
inferior court judges and court personnel. The Court
has meted the corresponding disciplinary measures
against erring judges, including dismissal and
suspension where warranted, and welcomes the honest
efforts of the bar to assist it in the task. But
lawyers should also bear in mind that they owe
fidelity to the courts as well as to their clients
and that the filing on behalf of disgruntled
litigants of unfounded or frivolous charges against
judges and the use of offensive and intemperate
language as a means of harrassing judges whose
decisions have not been to their liking (irrespective
of the law and jurisprudence on the matter) will
subject them to appropriate disciplinary action as
officers of the Court (Urbina, vs. Judge Maximo A.
Maceren, Adm. Case No. 288-J, June 19, 1974, 57 SCRA
403).
The judicial position in a large measure prevented
its occupants from defending themselves against
criticism. On this account they are peculiarly
entitled to receive the support of the
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bar against unjust criticism and clamor. The lawyer,


above all other members of society, should bear in
mind how necessary it is for the proper
administration of justice that the judges and the
courts should have confidence and esteem of the
people at large. If the people are to believe that
the law is the refuge of innocence and distress from
oppression and wrong, and are willing to submit to
its authority as the legitimate arbiter of its
controversies, then the dignity and integrity of the
courts and its officials must be protected from false
and unwarranted attacks (Carter, Ethics of the Legal
Profession, p. 67, In re Kelly, 35 Phil. 944).
§ 9. Effect of Apology of Counsel

It ill behooves an attorney to justify his


disrespectful language with the statement that it was
necessary for the defense of his client. A client’s
cause does not permit an attorney to cross the line
between libert and license. Lawyers must always keep
in perspective the thought that “since lawyers are
administrators of justice, oath-bound servants of
society, their first duty is not to their clients, as
many suppose, but to the administration of justice;
to this their client’s success is wholly subordinate;
and their conduct ought to and must be scrupulously
observant of law and ethics (Surigao Mineral
Reservation Board vs. Cloribel, supra.)
Counsel’s insistence that he had nothing to do with
the contemptuous motion for reconsideration and not
even read it because he was just asked by a friend
lawyer to sign it along with him does not excuse him.
As counsel of record, he has control of the
proceedings. (Id.); Montecillo vs. Gica, supra.
We are not unmindful of counsel’s statement that
the language used was not in any way meant to slight
or offend the Court. Want of intention, we feel
constrained to say, is no excuse for the language
employed. For, counsel cannot escape responsibility
by claiming that his words did not mean what any
feader must have understood them as meaning. At best,
it extenuates liability. (Rheem of the Philippines
vs. Ferrer, supra).
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