Kerwin taps Fortun as new legal counsel; judge won’t inhibit from case
The high-profile lawyer handling the drug charges against alleged Customs fixer Mark Taguba is now the new legal counsel of alleged Visayan drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.
Lawyer Raymond Fortun confirmed the appointment to the Inquirer, saying Espinosa asked for his contact details from Taguba last week after Espinosa’s former lawyer John Ungab was ambushed by motorcycle-riding suspects in Cebu province on Feb. 19.
Both Espinosa and Taguba are currently under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation and have pending drug-related cases at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Third legal counsel
Fortun would now be the third legal counsel of Espinosa, whose last two lawyers were killed in ambushes by still unidentified perpetrators.
His first legal counsel, Rogelio Bato Jr., was also shot dead by men riding in a pick-up vehicle and motorcycle in Tacloban City, Leyte province.
Despite this, Fortun said he had no fears of handling Espinosa’s illegal drug trading and firearm possession cases, which are currently being heard by Manila RTC Branch 26 Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr.
“As a professional, it is my duty to assist any person who seeks my help, regardless of my own personal beliefs as to the guilt or innocence of the accused,” said Fortun, who also served as one of the lawyers of former President Joseph Estrada during the impeachment trial.
Meanwhile, Pampilo on Thursday refused to inhibit from hearing Espinosa’s case after prosecutors earlier filed a motion against him for alleged “undue interference.”
In an order dated March 1, Pampilo said he found no merit in the motion filed Feb. 1 by Assistant Prosecutor Christian Bachiller after the judge allowed witness Jose Antipuesto to recant his affidavit implicating Espinosa in the drug trade.
The motion also questioned Pampilo’s impartiality as judge by saying Antipuesto was “forced” or “duped” into signing the affidavit.
Pampilo ruled, however, that the “mere imputation of bias and impartiality” is insufficient to inhibit from hearing a case.
“Bare allegations of their partiality will not suffice in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that a judge will undertake his role to dispense justice,” he said.
The judge also acknowledged that all parties in the case, including himself and the prosecutors, were in “imminent danger” following Ungab’s murder, but assured that he would continue to hear the case “without fear or favor.”
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