G.R. Nos. 79690-707 – 166 SCRA 316 – Legal Ethics – Contemptuous Language – Duty of a Lawyer
Zaldivar was the governor of Antique. He was charged before the Sandiganbayan for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Gonzales was the then Tanodbayan who was investigating the case. Zaldivar then filed with the Supreme Court a petition for Certiorari, Prohibition and Mandamus assailing the authority of the Tanodbayan to investigate graft cases under the 1987 Constitution. The Supreme Court, acting on the petition issued a Cease and Desist Order against Gonzalez directing him to temporarily restrain from investigating and filing informations against Zaldivar.
Gonzales however proceeded with the investigation and he filed criminal informations against Zaldivar. Gonzalez even had a newspaper interview where he proudly claims that he scored one on the Supreme Court; that the Supreme Court’s issuance of the TRO is a manifestation that the “rich and influential persons get favorable actions from the Supreme Court, [while] it is difficult for an ordinary litigant to get his petition to be given due course.”
Zaldivar then filed a Motion for Contempt against Gonzalez. The Supreme Court then ordered Gonzalez to explain his side. Gonzalez stated that the statements in the newspapers were true; that he was only exercising his freedom of speech; that he is entitled to criticize the rulings of the Court, to point out where he feels the Court may have lapsed into error. He also said, even attaching notes, that not less than six justices of the Supreme Court have approached him to ask him to “go slow” on Zaldivar and to not embarrass the Supreme Court.
ISSUE: Whether or not Gonzalez is guilty of contempt.
HELD: Yes. The statements made by respondent Gonzalez clearly constitute contempt and call for the exercise of the disciplinary authority of the Supreme Court. His statements necessarily imply that the justices of the Supreme Court betrayed their oath of office. Such statements constitute the grossest kind of disrespect for the Supreme Court. Such statements very clearly debase and degrade the Supreme Court and, through the Court, the entire system of administration of justice in the country.
Gonzalez is entitled to the constitutional guarantee of free speech. What Gonzalez seems unaware of is that freedom of speech and of expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute and that freedom of expression needs on occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with the requirements 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 antinomy between free expression and the integrity of the system of administering justice.
Gonzalez, apart from being a lawyer and an officer of the court, is also a Special Prosecutor who owes duties of fidelity and respect to the Republic and to the Supreme Court as the embodiment and the repository of the judicial power in the government of the Republic. The responsibility of Gonzalez to uphold the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court and not to promote distrust in the administration of justice is heavier than that of a private practicing lawyer.
Gonzalez is also entitled to criticize the rulings of the court but his criticisms must be bona fide. In the case at bar, his statements, particularly the one where he alleged that members of the Supreme Court approached him, are of no relation to the Zaldivar case.
The Supreme Court suspended Gonzalez indefinitely from the practice of law.