By Benjamin Pulta

PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta (File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday fined Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Rueda-Acosta PHP180,000 for indirect contempt and grossly undignified conduct.

This stemmed from Acosta’s acts instigated by her opposition to a conflict of interest provision in the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) for lawyers.

Acosta said the provision, which was still a proposal at the time, may give rise to a situation where both litigants in a case are represented by lawyers from the PAO.

She also claimed the measure would unduly add to the workload of public attorneys.

Under the previous rule, PAO lawyers could decline to represent a party when the other party already secured the services of PAO.

The fine on Acosta represents PHP30,000 for indirect contempt of court and PHP150,000 for grossly undignified conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

The SC also issued a stern warning to Acosta that a repetition of the same or similar offenses shall be dealt with more severely.

PAO forensics expert Erwin Erfe, meanwhile, was fined PHP10,000 for similar statements he made.

“It was determined that Atty. Acosta’s statements and innuendos on her Facebook page, which was accessible to the public, attributed ill intent and malice to the Court. The Court also found that by launching a public campaign against the new conflict of interest rule for the PAO using public attorneys and the PAO’s staff and clients and publicizing the contents of the PAO’s letters to Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo requesting the deletion of the same rule, Atty. Acosta tried to sway the public opinion in order to pressure the Court into yielding to her position,” the SC said.

It also said the acts undermined the public’s confidence in the Court and, consequently, the orderly administration of justice.

“Instead of enjoining public attorneys to strictly comply with the new conflict of interest rule for the PAO, the Office Order instigated disobedience to the rule and implied that the Court, by adopting the new conflict of interest rule for PAO, unduly exposed the PAO lawyers not only to criminal and administrative liability, but also to physical danger,” the SC said. (PNA)