Wake Up, Philippines!

With no Nicole, activists target SyCip law firm

Posted in Law Firms by Erineus on March 25, 2009
Hell hath no fury... Female activists led by former Nicole lawyer Evalyn Ursua, second from left, show copies of the petition they filed before the Supreme Court seeking the investigation of the Sycip Salazar law firm. MANNY PALMERO

By Rey E. Requejo

A WEEK after her controversial client “Nicole” terminated her services, lawyer Evalyn Ursua yesterday asked the Supreme Court to investigate the largest law firm in the country for its role in the deposition that raised questions on the rape conviction of American serviceman Daniel Smith.

Ursua, along with six other people and five groups, asked the high court to reprimand the SyCip, Salazar, Hernandez & Gatmaitan law firm for allowing one of its junior partners, Abraham Rey Acosta, to notarize Nicole’s controversial statement when the law firm was also representing Smith.

“Petitioners respectfully pray that the Honorable Court conduct an investigation of the questionable circumstances of the execution of the supposed sworn statement of Nicole, dated March 12, and to discipline, if warranted, the lawyers, including SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, who may have violated ethical rules in its execution and notarization,” the petitioners said.

The controversial sworn statement was filed with the Court of Appeals, along with the notice terminating Ursua’s services, by SyCip Law partner Jose Justiano and junior partner Carlito Zaragoza on March 16, the day Nicole departed for the United States.

The petitioners also asked the high court to investigate the alleged leak to news media of a supposed draft of a Court of Appeals decision, supposedly authored by retired Associate Justice Agustin Dizon, that would have reversed Smith’s conviction by Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Benjamin Pozon.

Dizon was in charge of the appellate court division that handled the rape case, but he retired on June 27 last year. The case has since been re-raffled and is now pending before the Twelfth Division led by Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa.

Smith was accused of raping Nicole in Subic, Zambales, in 2005 and was convicted in 2006. He was then moved to the US Embassy in Manila from a local jail pending his appeal.

But on March 12 this year, Nicole executed a sworn statement saying she doubted if she had indeed been raped.

“The investigation should determine who was responsible for the release of the document and the motives behind its release,” the petitioners asked the high court.

“In the meantime that the investigation is being conducted, petitioners respectfully ask the Honorable Supreme Court to stop the Court of Appeals from resolving Smith’s appeal until all the issues… that seriously affect the People’s right to due process as well as the integrity of the judicial process are all addressed and resolved,” the petitioners added.

They also questioned the steps taken by government lawyers and their supposed “conflict of interest.”

“The Office of the Solicitor General has not taken any step to ensure that the interests of the people are protected. For example, it has not made any move to ascertain whether the People’s principal witness, Nicole, indeed freely, voluntarily and intelligently executed her alleged sworn statement of March 12, 2009,” the petitioners said.

“In the light of the Office of the Solicitor General’s insistence that Smith should be detained in the US Embassy until the final resolution of his appeal, despite the Supreme Court ruling of Feb. 11, 2009, the office evidently suffers from a serious conflict of interest,” they said.

“From the sequence and timing of events, it is not difficult to conclude that everything has been orchestrated so that in the end Smith will get acquitted and the public will accept the acquittal,” the parties said.