Is the judge biased?-A A +A
Sunday, September 29, 2013
SOME of my lawyer-friends, including our colleagues in the media, advised me to refrain from commenting on the contempt charges Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 Judge Raphael Yrastoza Jr. is mulling against Sun.Star Cebu public and standards editor Atty. Pachico “Cheking” Seares and ABS-CBN Cebu top anchor and The Freeman/Banat columnist Leo Lastimosa as I might be the next target.
I answered them, “Well, fine.” I cracked a joke about the two judges who cited me for contempt.
One committed suicide while the other one was dismissed by the Supreme Court (SC). The late Judge Martin Ocampo, who handled the celebrated Chiong rape-slay case, cited me for contempt in connection with my write-up predicting that one of the suspects, Juan Francisco “Paco” Larrañaga, might be acquitted.
Seares, who was then editor-in-chief of Sun.Star Cebu, was included in the charge.
Despite my explanation, Ocampo penalized us in the amount of P10,000. He later committed suicide.
After 11 years, his decision was reversed by the Cebu-based Court of Appeals.
Former Barili RTC Judge Idelfonso Suerte also cited me for contempt after I lambasted him in my radio program on his handling of the Cedrick Devenadera case, who was the fall guy in the Ruben Ecleo Jr. parricide case. The SC later investigated his irregularities, including the annulment cases he handled, and ended up dismissing him.
Seriously, I doubt Judge Yrastorza would do it to me.
In the first place, I am not a party to the case. I am just an outsider looking in.
Can I be cited for contempt if I just shared my opinion without calling the judge “biased”? Seares and Lastimosa were party to the libel case filed by former governor Gwendolyn Garcia. Leo was the main accused while Cheking was a witness for the prosecution.
Second, I did not call the judge “biased” when he convicted Leo of libel both in my radio commentaries and in my columns.
Leo and Cheking’s use of the word “biased” that prompted the judge to initiate contempt charges against them, saying their statements were “degrading to the dignity of the court.”
When the two media men appeared in his sala last Friday, the judge made it clear that he was not “biased” in his decision.
But Yrastorza’s contempt move was not clear. It was in general terms. The accused,
through their lawyers, manifested that the judge should be more specific in his charges on what particular statement in Leo’s radio commentaries/columns and Seares’s columns respectively that was “contumacious.”
In the case of Leo, I can understand and share his sentiments because he was the one convicted.
Can you expect Leo to thank and appreciate Yrastorza for the latter’s decision? It’s a natural reaction for an accused who is convicted to cry “biased” against the judge.
If the accused is acquitted, it is also the complainant or the aggrieved party who will also shout “biased” against the judge. That is human instinct. But that’s how our judiciary works.
I heard a lot about Yrastorza’s integrity and dedication to his work. He is not corrupt. In fact, when he collapsed in his sala a few years ago, he did not want to be brought to the hospital because he did not have money for hospitalization.
Sometimes, his peers and ordinary lawyers misunderstand him for being too strict.
Once he dons his robe, he treats everybody equally. No friends, no relatives. In Tagalog, “Walang kinikilingan. Walang kamag-anak at kaibigan.” I hope all judges are
But I also remember Yrastorza was one of the judges who visited Gwen in her office and requested that the former governor raise their allowances from the Provincial Government. When asked if that monetary consideration from Capitol “influenced” his decision in convicting Leo, the honorable judge said, “So what?” Aw, okay. Lalison pa nimo na.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 30, 2013.