502 Phil. 292

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. 05-3-04-SC, July 22, 2005 ]

RE: LETTER DATED 21 FEBRUARY 2005 OF ATTY. NOEL S. SORREDA.

R E S O L U T I O N

GARCIA, J.:

In a letter[1] to the Chief Justice bearing date February 21, 2005, with copies thereof furnished all the Associate Justices of the Court and other government entities, RTC judges and counsels listed thereunder, Atty. Noel S. Sorreda, who identified himself as "member, Philippine Bar", expressed his frustrations over the unfavorable outcome of and the manner by which the Court resolved the following cases filed by him, to wit:
  1. UDK-12854, Ramon Sollegue vs. Court of Appeals, et al.,
  2. G.R. No. 149334, Artemio Dalsen vs. Commission on Elections
  3. G.R. No. 148440, Lilia Sanchez vs. Court of Appeals
  4. G.R. No. 152766, Lilia Sanchez vs. Court of Appeals, et al.
  5. G.R. No. 154310, Noel Sorreda vs. Court of Appeals, et al.
  6. G.R. No. 155446, Allan Reynold Cu vs. Court of Appeals, et al.
  7. G.R. No. 156630, Ronilo Sorreda vs. Court of Appeals, et al.
  8. G.R. No. 157046, Ronilo Sorreda vs. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.
  9. G.R. No. 164163, Glenn Caballes vs. People, et al.
  10. G.R. No. 164677, Marissa Macarilay vs. Hon. Alba-Estoesta, et al.
In said letter, Atty. Sorreda recounted the alleged circumstances surrounding the dismissal on February 7, 2000[2] of the very first case he filed with the Court, UDK-12854, entitled Ramon Sollegue vs. Court of Appeals, et al.  Frustrated with the adverse ruling thereon, Atty. Sorreda had previously written a letter[3] dated April 2, 2001 addressed to the Chief Justice, copy furnished all the Associate Justices of this Court, the Court of Appeals and the Office of the Solicitor General, denouncing the Court, as follows:
Mr. Chief Justice, I believe the manner the Court comported itself in the aforesaid case is totally execrable and atrocious, entirely unworthy of the majesty and office of the highest tribunal of the land.  It is the action not of men of reason or those who believe in the rule of law, but rather of bullies and tyrants from whom "might is right." I say, shame on the High Court, for shoving down a hapless suitor's throat a ruling which, from all appearances, it could not justify.
Reacting to the above, the Court, in an en banc Resolution dated August 14, 2001,[4] required Atty. Sorreda to show cause why he should not be properly disciplined "for degrading, insulting and dishonoring the Supreme Court by using vile, offensive, intemperate and contemptuous derogatory language against it".

In response to the "show cause" order, Atty. Sorreda addressed two (2) more letters to the Court dated December 2, 2001[5] and June 16, 2002,[6] arguing for the propriety of his action and practically lecturing the Court on his concepts of Legal and Judicial Ethics and Constitutional Law.  In its Resolutions of January 15, 2002[7] and August 27, 2002[8], the Court merely noted said two letters.

Quoted from his earlier communications are the following statements of Atty. Sorreda disparaging the Court with intemperate, insulting, offensive and derogatory language, to wit:
"SOMETHING HAS GOT TO BE SERIOUSLY AND TERRIBLY WRONG WITH THE COUNTRY'S JUSTICE SYSTEM"[9]

"WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN THIS COUNTRY, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE?

xxx     xxx     xxx

I therefore deplore and condemn in the strongest term such strong-handed actuations as the Honorable Court has displayed.  They are as one might expect in a dictatorship or authoritarian regime."[10]
Persistent in imputing to the Court and its Justices offensive and uncalled remarks, Atty. Sorreda again went on a rampage in his subject letter of February 21, 2005:
xxx     xxx     xxx

Mr. Chief Justice, I do not doubt that these ten cases are among the most palpably meritorious cases that have ever been brought before the Supreme Court, or any court of justice for that matter. I cannot doubt that were it not for the Sollegue "miscounting," and the other incidents that ensued from it, at least some of these ten cases would have met with entirely different endings, so obvious and patent are their merits to any reasonable and impartial mind.

In short, Mr. Chief Justice, it is obvious that the High Court has taken it personally against me.  To the detriment of my innocent clients.  And of justice.

Mr. Chief Justice, why should this be? If the Court had anything against me, I stood ready to have the ax fall on my own neck, if it came to that.  As I had stated in one communication-
[I]f there is one thing I agree with in the High Court's position, it is that x x x if indeed I had wronged the Court in the way it had described, and if indeed my explanations and arguments "lack merit," I should indeed be disciplined; and surely no less than DISBARMENT will do. It should also be done as swiftly as possible, given the gravity of the charge and the high dignity and importance of the institution attacked. Now on January 22, 2002 and May 7, 2002, the Court has resolved to deny to the undersigned the "full opportunity" for self-defense that he request ... therefore he is now left without any defense, and he can only wonder why no sanction has come down until the present time.
Might it be because I had continued, "Of course, I shall also only expect that such judgment, when it does come, will be a fully-reasoned one, as thoroughly discussed perhaps as that in In re Almacen, 31 SCRA 562, for the proper guidance of all concerned"- and the Court knows that it is not able to give such a "fully-reasoned judgment" as I ask? But rather than admit it has done wrong and rectify the same, it would rather "get back" at me by means of unfavorable rulings in the cases I elevate to it- let the innocent litigants, whose only mistake was to hire me as their counsel, and the cause of justice suffer as they may.

Mr. Chief Justice, that is not only unjust; that is craven cowardice, to deal with an adversary like that. It is not something I would have expected from the supreme judges of the land.

I can only view other happenings in the Honorable Court in such light. The same verifications that were previously unfaulted, suddenly became course for dismissal. What other interpretation can I give it, than that the court had run out of excuses to dismiss, since I was being careful not to repeat the same adjudged "shortcomings"; and was now scrounging every which way for one, just so to make sure I continue to get my "comeuppance."

That of the first nine cases, not one was assigned to the Third Division- only either to the Second Division, then chaired by Justice Josue N. Bellosillo, which handled the Sollegue case; or the First Division, chaired by the Chief Justice, to whom I have directly written afterwards.  Could it be only a coincidence - or is it a more likely explanation that the powers-that-be in the Court wanted to be very sure I never get favorable ruling?  Especially when it is considered that, following Justice Bellosillo's retirement on November 12, 2003, for the first time in the history of the nation's judiciary a vacancy in the Supreme Court was filled up way beyond the constitutionally prescribed period of 90 days- and after so much mystery and intrigue has surrounded the appointment of his successor, Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario.  In fact Justice Nazario was sworn in on July 14, 2004, just one day before a new retirement took place, this time of Justice Jose C. Vitug. It was only following this latest retirement, that for the first time this counsel had a case assigned to other than the First and Second Division. Could it be that Justice Vitug, then Chairman of the Third Division, and Justice Nazario, erstwhile presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan, had redoubtable reputations for independent-mindedness; and the powers-that-be in the court exercised their utmost influence to at least prevent the both of them sitting in the bench at the same time, lest together they should "buck the system" and divide the Court, if not successfully sway the Court to favorably rule on the undersigned counsel's cases before it?

xxx     xxx     xxx

But this time, in these ten cases I have recounted, I am wholly convinced that the court is in the wrong. I cannot but thus be filled with both acute sadness and burning indignation.  Sadness as counsel, to come to the realization that the high institution of which I am an officer has sunk to such a low. Indignation as a citizen, that the public officers who are supposed to serve him and help him find justice, should instead give judgments that so insult the intelligence and glare with iniquity.

Mr. Chief Justice, whatever gave the Court the notion that it could pronounce 29 days as greater than 60 days, and not to have to account for it?  Who can believe that the supposedly most illustrious legal minds of the land, would miss seeing grave abuse of discretion in the actions of an agency that directly contravened numerous laws and rules all at once?  How could democracy's vaunted "last bulwark" suffer a widow and her children to thereafter live in their toilet, by sanctioning the plainly void sale and illegal demolition of their erstwhile family home? Did the court pause for even three minutes to put itself in the shoes of an evidently innocent man kept locked up for three years now on a manifestly false and fabricated charge, before it so blandly invoked its "discretion" not to entertain his appeal at all?  Where did the Court get such brazenness, such shameless boldness, as to dismiss on the ground that the docket fees had not been paid, when the evidence clearly show they in fact were? What manner of men are you- even challenging the citizenry to inform on the corrupt, and the bar to become like "Frodo" in the fight against society's evils in your public speeches and writings, and yet you yourselves committing the same evils when hidden from public view.  Are all these rulings in the ten cases not the clearest manifestation that the supreme magistrates have bought into the "What-are-we-in-power-for" mentality? (Underscoring ours)
Upon instructions of the Chief Justice, Atty. Sorreda's aforesaid letter of 21 February 2005 was included in the March 15, 2005 en banc agenda of the Court.

In an en banc Resolution[11] dated March 15, 2005, the Court again required Atty. Sorreda to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for maliciously attacking the Court and its Justices.

By way of compliance to the second "show cause" order, Atty Sorreda, in his letter of May 10, 2005[12], again with copies thereof furnished the Justices, judges and lawyers thereunder listed, states that he "does not see the need to say any more" because the "cause" has "already been shown as clear as day" in his earlier letter of 21 February 2005, adding that "[T]he need is for the High Tribunal to act on the instant matter swiftly and decisively".  While admitting "the great seriousness of the statements and imputations I have leveled against the Court", he dared the Court whether "it is capable of a judgment that will be upheld by the 'Supreme Judge'".

After going over the records of the cases in which Atty. Sorreda accuses the Court of being unfair in the resolution thereof, the Court stands by its rulings thereon.  Atty. Sorreda mockingly stated that the Court does not know how to count when it dismissed the Sollegue case on ground of failure to file the petition therein within the reglementary period.  For the enlightenment of the good counsel, the Court dismissed the petition in Sollegue not only for failure to have it filed within the period fixed in Sec. 4, Rule 65 but also for failure to submit the duplicate original or certified true copy of the questioned resolution of the Court of Appeals dated June 28, 1999 in accordance with Sec. 1, Rule 65 and Sec. 3, Rule 46, in relation to Sec. 2, Rule 56.[13] In another case, Ronilo Sorreda vs. CA, Atty. Sorreda claimed that said case was dismissed on the mere ground of insufficient verification.  Again, Atty. Sorreda must be reminded that the petition was dismissed not merely for defective verification but more so because the petition was evidently used as a substitute for a lost remedy of appeal.[14] We see no need to belabor the grounds for the dismissal of the other cases enumerated by counsel, said grounds having been stated in the respective minute resolutions which were plain, clear, simply worded and understandable to everyone, even to those who do not have a formal education in law.  Suffice it to say that the dismissal of those petitions was the result of a thorough deliberation among members of this Court.

Atty. Sorreda's imputation of manipulation in the assignment and raffle of cases is utterly baseless and at best a mere figment of his imagination.

Unfounded accusations or allegations or words tending to embarrass the court or to bring it into disrepute have no place in a pleading. Their employment serves no useful purpose. On the contrary, they constitute direct contempt of court or contempt in facie curiae and a violation of the lawyer's oath and a transgression of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In Ang vs. Castro[15], this Court held that if a pleading containing derogatory, offensive and malicious statements is submitted in the same court or judge in which the proceedings are pending, it is direct contempt, equivalent as it is to a misbehavior committed in the presence of or so near a court or judge as to interrupt the administration of justice.  Direct contempt is punishable summarily.[16]

Atty Sorreda's conduct likewise violated the Code of Professional Responsibility, specifically -
CANON 11 - A lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers and should insist on similar conduct by others.

x x x

Rule 11.03 - A lawyer shall abstain from scandalous, offensive or menacing language or behavior before the courts.

Rule 11.04 - A lawyer shall not attribute to a judge motives not supported by the record or having no materiality to the case.
While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his client's genuine interest and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his client's rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost learning and ability,[17] he must do so only within the bounds of the law.[18] A lawyer is entitled to voice his criticism within the context of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech which must be exercised responsibly.  After all, every right carries with it the corresponding obligation. Freedom is not freedom from responsibility, but freedom with responsibility. The lawyer's fidelity to his client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and orderly administration of justice.  It must be done within the confines of reason and common sense.[19]

Atty. Sorreda, as a citizen and as an officer of the court, is entitled to criticize the rulings of this Court, to point out where he feels the Court may have lapsed with error.  But, certainly, this does not give him the unbridled license to insult and malign the Court and bring it into disrepute.  Against such an assault, the Court is duty-bound "to act to preserve its honor and dignity and to safeguard the morals and ethics of the legal profession".[20]

The eloquent words of the late Justice Conrado V. Sanchez in Rheem of the Philippines vs. Ferrer[21] are enlightening:
By now, a lawyer's duties to the Court have become commonplace. Really, there could hardly be any valid excuse for lapses in the observance thereof. Section 20(b), Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, in categorical terms, spells out one such duty: "To observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers." As explicit is the first canon of legal ethics which pronounces that "[i]t is the duty of the lawyer to maintain towards the Courts a respectful attitude, not for the sake of the temporary incumbent of the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its supreme importance." That same canon, as a corollary, makes it peculiarly incumbent upon lawyers to support the courts against "unjust criticism and clamor." And more. The attorney's oath solemnly binds him to a conduct that should be "with all good fidelity xxx to the courts." Worth remembering is that 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."
In Surigao Mineral Reservation Board vs. Cloribel,[22] Justice Sanchez further elucidated:
A lawyer is an officer of the courts; he is, "like the court itself, an instrument or agency to advance the ends of justice." His duty is to uphold the dignity and authority of the courts to which he owes fidelity, "not to promote distrust in the administration of justice." Faith in the courts a lawyer should seek to preserve. For, to undermine the judicial edifice "is disastrous to the continuity of government and to the attainment of the liberties of the people." Thus has it been said of a lawyer that "[a]s an officer of the court, it is his sworn and moral duty to help build and not destroy unnecessarily that high esteem and regard towards the courts so essential to the proper administration of justice."
Likewise, in Zaldivar vs. Gonzales,[23] we held:
Respondent Gonzales is entitled to the constitutional guarantee of free speech.  No one seeks to deny him that right, least of all this Court.  What respondent seems unaware of is that freedom of speech and of expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute and that freedom of expression needs an occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with the requirement of equally important public interests.  One of these fundamental public interests is the maintenance of the integrity and orderly functioning of the administration of justice.  There is no antimony between free expression and the integrity of the system of administering justice.  For the protection and maintenance of freedom of expression itself can be secured only within the context of a functioning and orderly system of dispensing justice, with the context, in other words, of viable independent institutions for delivery of justice which are accepted by the general community.
As officer of the court, Atty. Sorreda has the duty to uphold the dignity and authority of the courts and to promote confidence in the fair administration of justice.[24] No less must this be and with greater reasons in the case of the country's highest court, the Supreme Court, as the last bulwark of justice and democracy

Atty. Sorreda must be reminded that his first duty is not to his client but to the administration of justice, to which his client's success is wholly subordinate.  His conduct ought to and must always be scrupulously observant of law and ethics.  The use of intemperate language and unkind ascription can hardly be justified nor can it have a place in the dignity of judicial forum.  Civility among members of the legal profession is a treasured tradition that must at no time be lost to it.[25]

Here, Atty. Sorreda has transcended the permissible bounds of fair comment and constructive criticism to the detriment of the orderly administration of justice. Free expression, after all, must not be used as a vehicle to satisfy one's irrational obsession to demean, ridicule, degrade and even destroy this Court and its magistrates.[26]

We have constantly reminded that any gross misconduct of a lawyer, whether in his professional or private capacity, puts his moral character in serious doubt as a member of the Bar, and renders him unfit to continue in the practice of law.[27]

In the very recent similar case of Tacardon, et al vs. Ponce Enrile,[28] we imposed on the respondent therein the penalty of suspension from the Bar.  Here, as in Tacardon, we find the exclusion of Atty. Sorreda from the Bar a fitting sanction until he proves himself worthy to enjoy the privileges of membership to the profession.  It is imperative to instill in him sense of discipline that should teach him anew of his duty to respect courts of justice, especially this Tribunal.  This rehabilitation must be done outside the brotherhood he has dishonored and to which he will be allowed to return only after he has purged himself of his misdeeds.[29]

WHEREFORE, ATTY. NOEL S. SORREDA is found guilty both of contempt of court and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility amounting to gross misconduct as an officer of the court and member of the Bar.  He is hereby indefinitely SUSPENDED as a member of the Bar and is prohibited from engaging in the practice of law until otherwise ordered by this Court.

Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished the Court Administrator to be distributed to all courts for their information.  This Resolution shall be spread in his personal record and is immediately executory.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

 
[1] Rollo, pp. 2-16.

[2] Rollo of UDK-12854, p. 175.

[3] See 2nd Indorsement dated 13 July 2001 of the former 2nd Division of the Court; Rollo of UDK-12854, pp. 207-209.

[4] Rollo of UDK-12854, p. 211.

[5] Rollo of UDK-12854, pp. 218-309

[6] Rollo of UDK-12854, pp. 324-396.

[7] Rollo of UDK-12854, p. 310.

[8] Rollo of UDK-12854, p. 398.

[9] Stated in Atty. Sorreda's letter addressed to the Chief Justice when his petition in the case of Artemio Dalsen vs. Comelec, G. R. No. 149334 was denied.

[10] Stated in Atty. Sorreda's letter addressed to the Chief Justice when his petition in the case of Lilia Sanchez vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 148440 was denied.

[11] Rollo, p. 17.

[12] Rollo, pp. 18-26.

[13] SC Minute Resolutions dated February 7, 2000 and June 19, 2000.

[14] SC Minute Resolution dated January 27, 2003.

[15] 136 SCRA 453 [1985].

[16] Section 1, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court.

[17] Chao vs. Chiongson, 329 Phil 270 [1996] citing Suarez vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 91133, March 22, 1993, 220 SCRA 274 and Canon 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

[18] Canon 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

[19] Supra.

[20] In re: Wenceslao Laureta, March 12, 1987, 148 SCRA 382.

[21] No. L-22979, June 26, 1967, 20 SCRA 441.

[22] No. L-27072, 31 SCRA 1 [1990], citing People ex rel. Karlin vs. Culkin, 60 A.L.R. 851, 855; In re Sotto, 82 Phil. 595; Malcolm, Legal and Judicial Ethics, 1949 ed., p. 160; and People vs. Carillo, 77 Phil. 572.

[23] No. L-79690, 166 SCRA 316 [1988].

[24] In re: Published Alleged Threats Against Members of the Court in the Plunder Law Case Hurled by Atty. Leonardo De Vera, A.M. No. 01-12-03-SC, 385 SCRA 285 [2002].

[25] Alonte vs. Savellano, et al., 350 Phil 700 [1998].

[26] Ariosa vs. Tamin, A.M. No. RTJ-92-798, 344 SCRA 589 [2000].

[27] Sebastian vs. Calis, A.C.No. 5118, Sept. 9, 1999.

[28] G.R. No. 159286, April 5, 2005.

[29] In re Almacen, No. L-27654, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 562.



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