CASE BRIEF 2001-0064

CASE: Atty. Conchito J. Oclarit vs. Hon. Maximo G. W. Paderanga, Judge, Regional Trial Court, Misamis Oriental [G.R. No. 139519. January 24, 2001]

PONENTE: Pardo, J.:

SUBJECT:
1. Civil Procedure: Direct Contempt; remedy

FACTS:        Atty. Conchito J. Oclarit was counsel for the plaintiffs in the case-entitled, spouses Gregorio and Pelegrina Babatido v. Elnora and Teodoro Abella, Et Al. Judge Maximo G. W. Paderanga was the presiding judge. 

During the pre-trial conference, Atty. Oclarit filed a motion to approve compromise agreement entered into by the parties pointing out that the compromise agreement was reached before a barangay captain. Counsel for the defendants opposed the motion because the defendants were placed in a disadvantageous condition, arguing that the case was before the court, not before the barangay. Atty. Oclarit informed the court that the compromise agreement was signed and was explaining further when the court told him repeatedly to “shut up.” Then Atty. Oclarit requested the court to stop shouting at him. The court rhetorically asked: “why should the court precisely not cite you for contempt for doing that,” that is, for settling the case before the barangay captain.

Consequently, the presiding judge cited Atty. Oclarit in contempt of court and imposed on him a fine of P1,000.00. Atty. Oclarit remarked that the presiding judge was becoming very arrogant. In reply to that, Judge Paderanga declared: “I will put you in jail. Get a policeman.” At that moment, the court issued a verbal order holding Atty. Oclarit for direct contempt of court and sentencing Atty. Oclarit to serve one (1) day in jail and to pay a fine of P1,000.00. Atty. Oclarit indicated that he would challenge the ruling. Then, Judge Paderanga issued a “detention commitment” to the Jail Warden committing the person of Atty. Oclarit for direct contempt.  

The next day, with Atty. Oclarit in jail, he received a copy of the written order declaring him in direct contempt of court and sentencing him to pay a fine of P 1,000.00 and also to serve one (1) day in jail.  He was released after serving one (1) day in jail.  Apparently, he also paid the fine of P1,000.00.

Atty. Oclarit filed the instant special civil action of certiorari assailing the order.

ISSUES:

  1. Whether it is not proper to execute a compromise agreement before the barangay when the case is pending before the trial court.
  2. Whether Judge Paderanga correctly declared Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt.
  3. Is the order finding Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt of court immediately executory?
  4. Whether there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of Judge Paderanga in citing Atty. Oclarit in direct contempt.

RULING:
(1) There was nothing contumacious in the submission to the court of a motion for approval of compromise agreement reached before a barangay captain in a case pending before the court. It is not required that a compromise agreement be executed before the court. It may be executed before anyone or even among the parties themselves and then submitted to the court for approval.

(2) Judge Paderanga was not correct in declaring Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt. The presiding judge must state expressly in the order the facts constituting the contemptuous behavior of Atty. Oclarit and declaring him in direct contempt of court.
In this case, the court did not state the specific cause for declaring Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt of court. Indeed, it would seem that the court cited Atty. Oclarit for direct contempt of court for submitting such compromise agreement for approval though the compromise was reached before a barangay captain. As earlier said, there is nothing contumacious in such act.

(3) An order of direct contempt is not immediately executory or enforceable. The contemner must be afforded a reasonable remedy to extricate or purge himself of the contempt. Thus, in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, the Court introduced a new provision granting a remedy to a person adjudged in direct contempt by any court. Such person may not appeal therefrom, but may avail himself of certiorari or prohibition. In such case, the execution of the judgment shall be suspended pending resolution of such petition provided the contemner files a bond fixed by the court which rendered the judgment and conditioned that he will abide by and perform the judgment should the petition be decided against him.
In fact, Atty. Oclarit asked the court presided over by Judge Paderanga to fix a bail for his temporary liberty pending the filing of a petition for certiorari. This written motion was filed on the first hour the very next day. It was timely filed because the written order of contempt was issued only the next day and given to Atty. Oclarit when he was in jail. Judge Paderanga did not act on the motion. By such inaction, Judge Paderanga deprived Atty. Oclarit of an effective relief from an order of direct contempt of court. This is a violation of the Rules on contempt of court. Under Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, Atty. Oclarit had sixty (60) days within which to file his petition.

(4) Judge Paderanga gravely abused his discretion in declaring Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt of court, sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00 and to serve one day in jail. It was Judge Paderanga who first shouted successively at Atty. Oclarit to “shut up.” When Atty. Oclarit persisted in making his explanation, the court declared him in direct contempt, to the extent of stating that the judge had “absolute power.” The lawyer’s remarks explaining his position in the case under consideration do not necessarily assume the level of contumely that justifies the court to exercise the power of contempt. Courts must be slow to punish for direct contempt. This drastic power must be used sparingly in cases of clearly contumacious behavior in facie curiae. The salutary rule is that the power to punish for contempt must be exercised on the preservative, not vindictive principle, and on the corrective and not retaliatory idea of punishment. The courts must exercise the power to punish for contempt for purposes that are impersonal, because that power is intended as a safeguard not for the judges as persons but for the functions that they exercise.

The Fallo
The Supreme Court declared the order of Judge Paderanga finding Atty. Oclarit guilty of direct contempt of court VOID. The Court also orders the Court Administrator, Supreme Court, to file an administrative charge against Judge Paderanga for gross misconduct and grave abuse of authority. (See Case Brief No. 2005-0985: OCA vs. Judge Paderanga )
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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      There was nothing contumacious in the submission to the court of a motion for approval of compromise agreement reached before a barangay captain in a case pending before the court. It is not required that a compromise agreement be executed before the court. It may be executed before anyone or even among the parties themselves and then submitted to the court for approval.

B)       The judge must state expressly in the order the facts constituting the contemptuous behavior of the contemner and declaring him in direct contempt of court.

C)       In the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, the Court introduced a new provision granting a remedy to a person adjudged in direct contempt by any court. Such person may not appeal therefrom, but may avail himself of certiorari or prohibition. In such case, the execution of the judgment shall be suspended pending resolution of such petition provided the contemner files a bond fixed by the court which rendered the judgment and conditioned that he will abide by and perform the judgment should the petition be decided against him.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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