Jun 14, 2021 @ 9:47

No separation of personalities: SC suspends journo-turned-lawyer for insulting client’s hubby on FB

Stressing that a lawyer cannot divide his personality between that of an attorney and a “journalist-blogger,” the Supreme Court (SC) has suspended Berteni Causing from practicing law for one year for insulting his client’s husband in a Facebook post and even maligning him in a private message to his son.

In a 9-page en banc decision on A.C. No. 12883, the SC unanimously found the journalist-turned-lawyer guilty of violating Canon 1, Rule 8.01, Canon 13, Rule 13.02, Canon 19 and Rule 19.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR).

The suspension would take effect immediately upon Causing’s receipt of the decision. The SC sternly warned him that “a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.”

The case arose from a complaint-affidavit filed by Enrico Velasco, who filed a petition for declaration of nullity of his marriage with Nina Ricci Narvaez Laudato before the Balanga City, Bataan, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 3. Velasco cited the lack of marriage license. Causing represented the wife in that case.

On March 19, 2016, Causing published on his Facebook account a post titled “WISE POLYGAMOUS HUSBAND?” Without mentioning names, he claimed that Velasco’s reason for seeking the nullity of his marriage to Laudato was to prevent his prosecution for a criminal case for bigamy filed against him by his alleged second wife.

But, the post also contained photographs of the complete copy of Velasco’s petition. He also shared the post on his other Facebook account and his public Facebook group, both named “Berteni ‘Toto’ Cataluña Causing”; the latter had around 3,500 members.

On April 7, 2016, Causing then sent a direct message to Velasco’s son Jomel, telling him: “Pakitingnan mo ang iyong ama, iho at huwag mo syang gayahin ha.” The message contained a link to his public post about the nullity case.

Causing admitted the allegations, but invoked his right to freedom of expression and of the press. He also argued that he acted in his capacity as “spokesman-lawyer” and “journalist-blogger.”

But, the SC stressed that “a lawyer is not allowed to divide his personality as an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at 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,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting.

It also faulted Causing for using the words “polygamous,” “criminal,” “dishonest,” “arrogance,” “disgusting,” and “cheater” in not just his Facebook post but even his pleadings regarding the administrative case.

The SC noted that Section 12 of the Family Courts Act of 1997 prohibits the publication or disclosure of the records of cases before the family courts, including the nullity of marriage case.

It stressed that while a lawyer is “by all means, given the liberty to defend his client’s cause with utmost zeal,” Causing’s post overstepped the limitations because it was “so designed to elicit, at the very least, a negative public opinion” against Velasco.

The SC added that the freedom of speech, of expression and of the press is “not absolute” and may not be availed of “to broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name or reputation or bring them into disrepute.”

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Causing was the news editor of the tabloid People’s Journal Tonight.

The SC had dismissed previous administrative cases against Causing, such as that of plunder convict Janet Lim-Napoles (A.C. No. 12448) regarding his blog entries about the lavish lifestyle of her daughter Jeane and that of Herlita Gayo (A.C. No. 12618) for causing the annotation of a notice of lis pendens in the titles of Bo. Cupang Homeowners Association, Inc.

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