MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed a ruling by a lower court in Rizal finding a lawyer and her client guilty of indirect contempt and ordered them to pay a PHP5,000 fine.

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

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

Singson had been Tirona’s lawyer in an estafa case pending before the court.

In the motion claiming bias and partiality, Singson cited an instance where her client went to the court without his lawyer and was supposedly told that he was better off being represented by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

Tirona, in a statement, later admitted that it was a court staff and not the judge who advised him that he should have retained the services of PAO.

Singson, in her petition before the CA, said she was not present during the incident and that she relied exclusively on the narration by her client, Tirona, and said she had no reason at the time not to believe her client’s claim that he was told by the judge to get a new lawyer.

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

In dismissing the contempt charge, the CA said the lawyer had merely relied in good faith on her client’s statement.

Her client did not refute that he is guilty of indirect contempt which the CA said “may be taken as an admission that the fault about the false allegation (against the judge) laid exclusively with him”.

The tribunal added that the court’s contempt power “must be exercised judiciously and sparingly with utmost self-restraint with the end in view of utilizing the same for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, not for retaliation or vindication" and that it should not be availed of "unless necessary in the interest of justice”. (PNA)