A lawyer's language, though forceful and emphatic, must always be dignified and respectful, befitting the dignity of the legal profession.
This was contained in a recent Supreme Court ruling that suspended National Press Club (NPC) lawyer Berteni Causing from practice for a year for insulting a complaining party through his Facebook posts.
Penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, the high tribunal found Causing guilty of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR).
"He is hereby suspended from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year, effective upon his receipt of this decision, and is sternly warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely," according to the ruling that was promulgated on March 2, 2021 but was released recently to the media.
The case stemmed from a complaint-affidavit filed by Enrico R. Velasco against Causing before the integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for alleged violation of the CPR.
Velasco is a petitioner in a civil case for the declaration of nullity of his marriage with Nina Ricci Narvaez Laudato that is pending before Branch 3 of the Regional Trial Court in Balanga City, Bataan. Causing is Laudato's counsel.
On April 7, 2016, Causing sent a direct message to the complainant's son, Jomel A. Velasco, through the social networking site Facebook, saying, "[p]akitignan mo ang iyong ama, iho at huwag mo syang gayahin ha (Please look at your father. Don't imitate him)."
The message was accompanied by a link to a post dated March 19, 2016 published by Causing on FB with the caption "Wise Polygamous Husband?"
Causing then shared his post on his other FB account under the name "Berteni 'Toto' Cataluña Causing" and to another group likewise under the same name which is a public group with about 3,500 members. The same post was also shared by other individuals on their respective Facebook accounts, generating negative reactions and comments against the complainant.
Causing invoked his right to freedom of expression and of the press and argued that he was merely acting as spokesman-lawyer and a journalist-blogger when he made the post.
But the high court said that a lawyer is not allowed to divide his personality as an attorney at one time and a mere citizen in another.
"Regardless of whether a lawyer is representing his client in court, acting as a supposed spokesperson outside of it, or is merely practicing his right to press freedom as a journalist-blogger, his duties to the society and his ethical obligations as a member of the bar remain unchanged," the court said.
"Here, Atty. Causing had clearly violated Section 12 of Republic Act 8369, or the Family Courts Act of 1997, which prohibits the publication or disclosure, in any manner, of the records of Family Court cases. This is, in itself, a breach of his duties under Canon 1 as well as Canon 13 and Rule 13.02 of the CPR as the subject post not only disclosed confidential information regarding the nullity case, but also included his own, strongly-worded opinion regarding complainant's character and the circumstances surrounding the case."
The SC said Causing likewise violated Rule 8.01 of the CPR when he used the words "polygamous," "criminal," "dishonest," "arrogance," "disgusting," and "cheater" in his post and in his pleadings in direct reference to complainant.
"The use of intemperate language and unkind ascriptions has no place in the dignity of judicial forum. Language abounds with countless possibilities for one to be emphatic but respectful, convincing but not derogatory, and illuminating but not offensive," the Supreme Court said.