A.M. No. RTJ-08-2144 - ATTY. RAUL H. SESBREÑO v. JUDGE IRENEO L. GAKO, JR., ET AL.
[A.M. NO. RTJ-08-2144 : November 3, 2008]
ATTY. RAUL H. SESBREÑO, Complainant, v. JUDGE IRENEO L. GAKO, JR., Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 5, Cebu City, and MANUEL G. NOLLORA, Clerk of Court, RTC, Br. 5, Cebu City, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
This administrative case against Judge Ireneo L. Gako, Jr. and Clerk of Court Manuel G. Nollora, both of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 5, Cebu City, stemmed from a complaint1 filed by Atty. Raul H. Sesbreño charging Judge Gako with (a) violation of Rule 3.05, Canon 3, in relation to Rule 1.02, Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for his delay in resolving a Motion for Reconsideration filed in Special Proceedings No. 916-R entitled "Intestate Estate of Vito Borromeo," (b) violation of Canon 2 of the said Code for acting on the said case after he had recused himself from the case, and (c) incompetence, together with Clerk of Court Nollora.
The complainant alleged that on June 27, 2003, he filed a motion for reconsideration of the Order2 dated June 2, 2003 in Special Proceedings No. 916-R which was considered submitted for resolution per the Order dated July 4, 2003. According to the complainant, respondent Judge Gako deliberately failed to resolve the motion within the ninety (90)-day period prescribed by the Constitution, and in clear violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, particularly Rule 3.05, Canon 3, mandating a judge to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases within the required periods, and Rule 1.02, Canon 2, requiring judges to administer justice without delay.
The complainant further alleged that on April 26, 2004, respondent judge issued an Order inhibiting himself from handling Special Proceedings No. 916-R. However, almost five (5) months after such inhibition, respondent judge still continued to act on the said case by issuing an Order dated September 3, 2004 granting the Motion for Clarification/ Reconsideration filed by the heirs of Patrocino Borromeo Herrera. This, according to the complainant, violated Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, requiring a judge to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.
Complainant also charged respondent judge and his Clerk of Court of incompetence for failure to keep all the records of the case intact and for proceeding to resolve the case with incomplete records. Complainant asserted that respondents' incompetency is evident from the fact that when they turned over the records of the case to the RTC, Cebu City, Branch 9, only 16 out of the 72 volumes were accounted for as shown by the receipts signed by Clerk of Court Christine Doller on June 17, 20053 and August 11, 2005.4
In his 1st Indorsement dated January 19, 2006, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.5 referred the letter-complaint to respondent judge for his comment within ten (10) days from receipt of the same. Respondent judge was likewise directed to comment on why no disciplinary action should be taken against him for violation of his professional responsibility as a lawyer pursuant to the resolution dated September 17, 2002 of the Court En Banc in A.M. 02-9-02-SC.6 Said letter-complaint was also referred to Clerk of Court Nollora who filed his comment on March 20, 2006.7
When respondent judge failed to comply with the 1st Indorsement, then Court Administrator Velasco sent a 1st Tracer dated March 30, 2006 to respondent judge reiterating the directive for him to file his comment within five (5) days from receipt thereof, otherwise, the matter will be submitted to the Court without his comment.8 Again, respondent judge failed to comply.
For refusing to submit his comment despite the two (2) directives of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), the Court issued a Resolution9 directing respondent judge to show cause why he should not be administratively dealt with and to submit the required comment both within five (5) days from receipt thereof, with warning that in case of failure to comply, the Court shall take the necessary action against him and decide the administrative complaint on the basis of the record on hand.
On March 15, 2007, respondent judge finally filed his Compliance10 with an opening statement that he compulsorily retired from the service on September 20, 2006 and while working on his retirement papers, he suffered a mild stroke which necessitated his rehabilitation in his home.
Respondent judge explained that the instant administrative matter stemmed from his issuance of the Order dated June 2, 2003 denying Virginia Lim Sesbreño's claim for attorney's fees from the estate of Vito Borromeo. From the denial of his claim, complainant, Atty. Raul Sesbreño, filed a motion for reconsideration. According to respondent judge, he did not act on the said motion because he believed that Virginia Lim Sesbreño should be the person who should have filed the motion for reconsideration and not herein complainant. Subsequently, respondent judge issued an order voluntarily inhibiting himself from the case because complainant had already filed the instant administrative complaint against him.
With regard to his action on the motion filed by the heirs of Patrocino Borromeo Herrera despite his Order inhibiting himself from proceeding with the said case, respondent judge reasoned out that since the inhibition was voluntary on his part as the presiding judge, he felt then that it was also his discretion to disregard his Order.
Explaining on how he was able to resolve the motion/s filed in Special Proceedings No. 916-R, despite the incomplete records of the said case, respondent judge maintained that his resolutions were based on the pertinent records of the case that were forwarded to him.
On his part, respondent Clerk of Court Nollora admitted in his Comment11 dated February 6, 2006 that only 16 volumes of the records of the case were turned over by their sala (Branch 5) to Branch 9. However, he hastened to add that only 16 volumes were received by them from the Office of the Clerk of Court. According to Nollora, he did not ask for the other volumes because there was no order from the court and that the motions and incidents submitted for resolution can be resolved even without reference to the other records of the case. He added that the remaining volumes would only congest their already filled mini-bodega and steel cabinets.
Upon evaluation of the case, the OCA, in its Memorandum Report12 dated June 12, 2008, made the following recommendations:
(a) The instant administrative complaint be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter;
(b) Clerk of Court Manuel G. Nollora, Regional Trial Court, Branch 5, Cebu City be (a) found guilty of simple neglect of duty, (b) FINED in the amount equivalent to one (1) month salary, and (C) STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely, and
(c) Former Presiding Judge Ireneo G. Gako, Regional Trial Court, Branch 5, Cebu City be (a) found guilty of undue delay in rendering a decision or order and of violating a Supreme Court Circular, (b) FINED in the amount of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00). Considering that respondent judge has already returned from the judicial service, let the same amount be DEDUCTED from his retirement benefits.
The Court agrees with the findings of the OCA.
The Constitution mandates all lower courts to decide or resolve cases or matters within three (3) months from their date of submission. Accordingly, Rules 1.02 of Canon 1 and 3.05 of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct direct judges to administer justice impartially and without delay and to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.
In line with the foregoing, the Court has laid down administrative guidelines to ensure the prompt disposition of judicial business. Thus, SC Administrative Circular No. 13-87 provides:
3. Judges shall observe scrupulously the periods prescribed by Article VIII, Section 15 of the Constitution for the adjudication and resolution of all cases or matters submitted in their courts. Thus, all cases or matters must be decided or resolved within twelve months from date of submission by all lower collegiate courts while all other lower courts are given a period of three months to do so. x x x.
Furthermore, SC Administrative Circular No. 1-88 states:
6.1 All Presiding Judges must endeavor to act promptly on all motions and interlocutory matters pending before their courts. x x x.
Indisputably, respondent judge failed to act on the Motion for Reconsideration within three (3) months from the time said motion was submitted for resolution on July 4, 2003. His claim that the motion was not filed by the proper party is not a valid excuse to simply ignore said motion. Instead, he should have accordingly formally disposed of such motion. While it is true that respondent judge issued an Order voluntarily inhibiting himself from handling Special Proceedings No. 916-R, however, it does not appear on record that the Executive Judge was furnished with a copy of the said order for appropriate action. Respondent judge cannot also justify his inaction by his inhibition since if it was really his intention to refrain from handling the case, he should not have acted on the subsequent Motion for Clarification/Reconsideration filed by the heirs of Patrocino Borromeo Herrera.
All told, the unreasonable delay of the respondent judge in resolving the motion submitted for his resolution clearly constituted a violation of complainant's constitutional right to a speedy disposition of his case. Having failed to resolve the Motion for Reconsideration within the prescribed period of time, respondent judge is liable for undue delay in resolving a decision or order which is considered a less serious offense.
Regarding the charge of incompetency, it should be stressed that the duties and responsibilities of a judge are not strictly confined to judicial functions. He is also an administrator who must organize his court with a view to prompt and convenient dispatch of its business. As administrative officer of the Court, respondent judge should have required his clerk of court or any other court personnel to secure all the records of the case and keep the same intact although some of the volumes thereof would not be used in deciding the case. A judge is duty-bound to motivate his subordinates for the effective performance of the functions and duties of his office. In fact, the imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the court is to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice. Hence, any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice, which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary, shall be condemned and cannot be countenanced.13
Finally, respondent judge should also be held liable for failure to obey directives from the OCA. As borne by the records, the two directives of the OCA, namely the 1st Indorsement dated January 19, 2006 and the 1st Tracer dated March 30, 2006, were received by respondent judge on February 9, 2006 and April 17, 2006, respectively. Still, he contumaciously refused to submit his comment. It was only upon the issuance by this Court of a Resolution dated January 24, 2007 directing him to show cause why he should not be administratively dealt with for refusing to submit his comment that respondent judge finally complied.
We find the explanation of respondent judge that he suffered a mild stroke to be insufficient to exonerate him, although it may mitigate his liability. While he may have been suffering from some ailment, he failed to show that it totally incapacitated him from complying with the lawful orders of the OCA. The failure of respondent judge to comply with the OCA's directives to file comment to the letter-complaint against him manifested his indifference to the lawful directives of the Court. In Martinez v. Judge Zoleta,14 we held:
Again, we find the need and occasion to rule that a resolution of the Supreme Court requiring comment on an administrative complaint against officials and employees of the judiciary should not be construed as a mere request from the Court. Nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately or selectively. Respondents in administrative complaints should comment on all accusations or allegations against them in the administrative complaints because it is their duty to preserve the integrity of the judiciary. Moreover, the Court should not and will not tolerate future indifference of respondents to administrative complaints and to resolutions requiring comment on such administrative complaints.
A judge's (1) delay in rendering a decision or order and (2) failure to comply with this Court's rules, directives and circulars constitute less serious offenses under Rule 140, Section 9 of the Rules of Court:
SEC. 9. Less Serious Charges. - Less serious charges include:
1. Undue delay in rendering a decision or order, or in transmitting the records of a case;
xxx xxx xxx
4. Violation of Supreme Court rules, directives and circulars;
Section 11(B) of said Rule 140 provides the following sanctions for less serious offenses:
SEC. 11. Sanctions.
B. If the respondent is guilty of a less serious charge, any of the following sanctions shall be imposed:
1. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) month nor more than three (3) months; or
2. A fine of more than
P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.
For his part, respondent Clerk of Court Nollora, as an officer of the court, is duty-bound to use reasonable skill and diligence in completing the record of the case even without any order from his presiding judge, as he is aware whether the record is complete or incomplete when he receives them. Under the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, the branch clerk of court as the administrative officer of the court, among others, controls and supervises the safekeeping of court records. Moreover, Section 7, Rule 136 of the Rules of Court specifically mandates the clerk of court to safely keep all records, papers, files, exhibits and public property committed to his charge. As custodian of judicial records, it is incumbent upon him to ensure an orderly and efficient record management system in the court and to supervise the personnel under his office to function effectively. A clerk of court plays a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on his job under one pretext or another. He must be assiduous in performing his official duties and in supervising and managing court dockets and records.15 In this case, he fell short of his duty. Thus, we find him administratively liable for simple neglect of duty.
Simple neglect of duty is defined as the failure to give proper attention to a task expected of an employee resulting from either carelessness or indifference. Under Section 52(B), Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service in correlation with Rule XIV, Section 23 of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292, the penalty for simple neglect of duty, a less grave offense, is suspension for a period of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense and dismissal for the 2nd offense.
As it appears it was respondent clerk of court's first infraction, we find the penalty of suspension for one (1) month and one (1) day without pay to be sufficient. Furthermore, to prevent any undue adverse effect on the public service which would ensue should work be left unattended by reason of respondent's suspension, we deem it wise to convert his penalty to the payment of a fine. Thus, in line with jurisprudence,16 we impose a fine instead of suspension, so that he can continue to discharge his assigned tasks.
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:
(1) Finding Judge IRENEO L. GAKO, JR. GUILTY for two less serious offenses: (1) undue delay in rendering a decision/resolution and (2) violation of Court directives for which he is hereby FINED in the total amount of
P30,000.00 to be deducted from the amount withheld from his retirement benefits.
2) Finding Clerk of Court MANUEL G. NOLLORA GUILTY for simple neglect of duty and is FINED in the amount equivalent to one (1) month salary and sternly WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.
* On official leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-2.
2 Denying herein complainant's Urgent Motion for Satisfaction/Execution of the RTC Orders dated August 29, 1989 and October 3, 1990 awarding attorney's fees to the latter, which RTC Orders were affirmed in toto by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP-30134 and the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 124160 and G.R. No. 134874.
3 Rollo, p. 46.
4 Id. at 47.
5 Now Supreme Court Associate Justice.
6 Rollo, p. 13.
7 Id. at 15.
8 Id. at 18.
9 Id. at 22.
10 Id. at 24-25.
11 Id. at 15-16.
12 Id. at 42-43.
13 Kummer v. Abella-Aquino, A.M. No. RTJ-04-1873, February 28, 2005, 452 SCRA 396, 405.
14 374 Phil. 35, 47 (1999).
15 Salvador v. Serrano, A.M. No. P-06-2104, January 31, 2006, 481 SCRA 55, 71.
16 Aquino v. Lavadia, A.M. No. P-01-1483, September 20, 2001, 365 SCRA 441, 446-447.
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