G.R. No. 174759. September 07, 2011 (Case Brief / Digest)

Title: **Habawel & Medina vs. Court of Tax Appeals, First Division**

This case commenced when Surfield Development Corporation sought a refund for excess realty taxes paid from 1995 to 2003 from the Office of the City Treasurer of Mandaluyong City. After the City Government’s refusal to refund, Surfield filed a special civil action for mandamus at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mandaluyong City. The RTC dismissed the petition for reasons including prescription and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Surfield, represented by petitioners Denis B. Habawel and Alexis F. Medina, appealed the dismissal to the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) First Division, which denied the appeal citing lack of jurisdiction and failure to exhaust remedies under the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160).

Unyielding, the petitioners sought reconsideration, making contumacious remarks about the CTA First Division’s alleged ignorance of the law and disrespect for the doctrine of stare decisis. The CTA First Division denied the motion for reconsideration and ordered the petitioners to explain why they shouldn’t be held liable for indirect contempt or disciplinary action for their disrespectful language. Upon receiving an unsatisfactory response, the CTA First Division found the petitioners guilty of direct contempt, sentencing them to imprisonment for ten days and a fine of P2,000.00 each.

The petitioners sought reconsideration, which was denied, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing the CTA First Division committed grave abuse of discretion in finding their language contumacious, questioning their sincerity in apology, and asserting that the contempt power was exercised beyond the limits set by the Supreme Court.

1. Whether the petitioners’ language in the subject motion and compliance were contumacious.
2. Whether the petitioners were sincere in their apology and if their behavior constituted arrogance.
3. Whether the exercise of contempt power was within the limits set by the Supreme Court.
4. Whether the petitioners were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of direct contempt.

Court’s Decision:
The Supreme Court dismissed the petition for certiorari, upholding the CTA First Division’s decision that the petitioners committed direct contempt. The Court emphasized that the petitioners overstepped the bounds of propriety and disregarded their duty to respect the courts. The Court justified the CTA First Division’s actions, stating the language employed by the petitioners was derogatory, offensive, and menacing, thus constituting direct contempt of court. However, the Supreme Court modified the penalty by deleting the imprisonment sentence and maintaining the fine, citing the punishment for direct contempt should be preservative, not vindictive.

– Attorneys must observe and maintain respect due to courts and judicial officers, abstaining from scandalous, offensive, or menacing language or behavior before the Courts.

Class Notes:
– Direct Contempt: Actions that disrespect the court or obstruct the administration of justice.
– Legal Duty of Attorneys: Upholding decorum, showing respect to the judiciary, and refraining from derogatory language.
– Penalty for Contempt: Can include fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the gravity of the offense and the court’s discretion.

Historical Background:
This case highlights the Court of Tax Appeals’ firm stance on maintaining respect and decorum in judicial proceedings. It underscores the judiciary’s authority to sanction direct contempt summarily as a means to preserve the court’s honor and ensure unimpeded administration of justice. This decision reinforces the professional responsibility of lawyers to conduct themselves with dignity and respect toward the court, even when zealously advocating for their client’s cause.


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