Legal Ethics Case Digests – Improper Imposition of the Punishment of Contempt
Flaviano B. Cortes v. Judge Felina Bangalan
A.M. No. MTJ-97-1129. January 19, 2000
Facts: Complainant was one of the co-accused in an adultery case filed before the sala of respondent Judge Bangalan. In a letter-complaint, he moved for the voluntary inhibition of respondent judge on the ground that the latter cannot be impartial over the criminal case because complainant previously filed an opposition to the appointment of respondent as RTC judge.
For this, respondent judge issued an order citing Complainant in direct contempt of court, averring further that his pleading contained derogatory, offensive or malicious statements “equivalent to misbehavior committed in the presence of or so near a court or judge as to interrupt the proceedings before the same within the meaning of Rule 71. When complainant appealed said order in the same court, after posting a notice of appeal, respondent judge ordered him to submit a record on appeal. Upon failure to do so, respondent judge issued a warrant of arrest against Complainant for which he was arrested and jailed for 1 day with a fine of P10.00.
Thus, Complainant charges respondent judge with gross ignorance of the law, oppressive conduct and abuse of authority when the latter held him in contempt of court on account of the statements he made in his letter-complaint which statements, complainant insists, are absolutely privileged in nature. Complainant further alleges that he filed a notice of appeal from the order of contempt but respondent directed him to submit a record on appeal despite the fact that the same is not required under the rules.
Held: GUILTY. Judge B was fined in the amount equivalent to 1-month salary with a stern warning that a repetition of the same shall be dealt with more seriously. The Court said that while it is true that the complainant attached the administrative letter-complaint in his letter for respondent judge to inhibit in the criminal case, it was used merely to support his contention in his motion for inhibition. A judge is bound never to consider lightly a motion for his inhibition that questions or puts to doubt, however insignificant, his supposed predilection to a case pending before him. Furthermore, the alleged offensive and contemptuous language contained in the letter-complaint was not directed to the respondent court.
A judge may not hold a party in contempt of court for expressing concern on his impartiality even if the judge may have been insulted therein. While the power to punish in contempt is inherent in all courts so as to preserve order in judicial proceedings and to uphold the due administration of justice, judges, however, should exercise their contempt powers judiciously and sparingly, with utmost restraint, and with the end in view of utilizing their contempt powers for correction and preservation not for retaliation or vindication.
Anent the charge of gross ignorance of the law in requiring complainant to submit a record on appeal, we find the respondent judge’s order to be not it accord with the established rule on the matter. Contempt proceedings is not one of those instances where a record on appeal is required to perfect an appeal. Thus, when the law is elementary, so elementary, not to know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.