Kapunan quits as Napoles lawyer in detention case

Lorna Kapunan (right) with client Janet Lim Napoles

MANILA  - The lead defense counsel of Janet Lim-Napoles in the serious illegal detention case before the Makati   Regional Trial Court branch 150 has withdrawn from the case.

In a phone interview, lawyer Lorna  Kapunan said she had a difference in opinion with co-defense counsel Alfredo Villamor which could jeopardize the defense of Napoles.

“You cannot have a difference in opinion when you strategize for defense,” she said. “That’s why we are withdrawing from the serious illegal detention case.”

Kapunan said Napoles has been informed about the issue, and that she has chosen Villamor to continue representing her in the serious illegal detention case.

“That’s the policy in our law firm,” she said. “If we are not the handling lead counsel, we withdraw from the case.”

Kapunan said she had informed the court through a letter to Judge Elmo Alameda that Villamor would become the lead counsel of Napoles.

She will still formally manifest with the court her withdrawal of appearance for Napoles, she added.

Speaking to reporters, lawyer Diosfa Valencia, Makati RTC Branch 150 clerk of court, said Kapunan has yet to file a formal motion informing the court that she has withdrawn from the case.

“As of now, our records show that she is still a counsel in the case,” she said. “She has yet to file a motion to withdraw.”

Valencia said Kapunan’s withdrawal will not affect the case of Napoles as    Villamor is still representing her.

The court will have to approve Kapunan’s withdrawal, she added.

At the hearing, Villamor’s cross-examination of Benhur Luy was cut short when Alameda left the bench and went to his chambers.

Shortly thereafter, Alameda reappeared in court with a note which he asked to be handed to Prosecutor Christopher Garvida.

“That is confidential,” he said. “That is not from me.”

Earlier, Kapunan went to the office of Alameda to hand the note.

When  Luy’s cross-examination resumed, Garvida stood up and asked Alameda that they, along with Villamor meet in chambers.

They later returned to court and proceeded with the hearing without Kapunan.

During a break in the trial, Villamor would neither confirm or deny the report that Kapunan had withdrawn from the case.

“I don’t know,” he told reporters. “I don’t know.”

At the Senate, Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said yesterday Kapunan’s   withdrawal as counsel is a big blow to Napoles’ defense.

“That is not good if you are abandoned by your own lawyer,” he said. “That means that you’re not united in the strategy to be carried out. And that’s probably the reason why attorney Lorna Kapunan resigned.

“But again, I am only guessing. You just told me that she resigned. I would assume that there is some disagreement in strategy.”

Defense presents priest

The defense presented yesterday as witness a 53-year-old priest who testified that Luy was not illegally detained but had spent a spiritual retreat at a house of Napoles in Magallanes Village, Makati.

Fr. Peter Edward Lavin of the Alagad ni Maria Seminary in Antipolo said that on Dec. 20, 2012, after saying Mass at the Heritage Park in Taguig for the birthday of Napoles’ late mother, Magdalena, Napoles’ brother and co-accused, Reynald Lim told him Luy wanted to undergo a religious renewal.

“After the Mass, Reynald approached me and told me that Benhur wanted a spiritual retreat for drug addiction and anomalies for a loan that the  company was not aware of,” he said.

Lavin told the court that he offered a retreat house adjacent to their seminary in Antipolo and to act as Luy’s spiritual adviser during the retreat.

However, Luy did not appear at the Antipolo retreat house, he added.

Lavin said he later learned that Luy had chosen to go to the  Bahay ni San Jose at 52 Lapu-Lapu St. in Magallanes Village with Monsignor Josefino Ramirez as his retreat master.

“Monsi (Ramirez) told me that Benhur has already started his spiritual counseling with him,” he said.

Lavin said he saw Luy last Dec. 26 praying while walking in the garden at that house.

In another visit, he again saw Luy praying at the chapel in that house and  later talking with someone on a mobile phone, he added.

Lavin said he was not aware that Luy was being held against his will as they would greet each other whenever he would visit the Magallanes house.

He had visited the Magallanes house six times since Dec. 26, 2012, he added.

During cross-examination, Lavin told Garvida that he does not know Napoles personally.

He would just help Monsignor Ramirez say Mass at Napoles’ office or at her mother’s mausoleum, he added.

However, Garvida said Lavin was an incorporator of the JLN Corp.

“If you don’t know her well, how come you became an incorporator of JLN Corporation?” he said.

Lavin said: “I don’t know.”

Lavin said he had visited Napoles at her place of detention in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa last Monday to inform her that he would be testifying in her illegal detention case.

He told Napoles that he would just be repeating what he had stated in his April 15, 2013 affidavit, he added.

He was convinced that Luy was in need of spiritual retreat after Reynald Lim showed him photos of Luy in “sexy” poses, Lavin told the court.

On questioning of Garvida, Lavin said the photos were not that scandalous.

After the testimonies of Luy and Lavin, the prosecution and defense made their formal offer of evidence.

Alameda ruled that Napoles’ petition for bail is now up for resolution.