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SECOND DIVISION

A. M. No. MTJ-04-1545 - May 27, 2004
(formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 03-1411-MTJ)

SATURNINO OBAÑANA, JR., Complainant, vs. JUDGE ARMANDO R. RICAFORT, Municipal Trial Court, Siaton, Negros Oriental, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Before this Court is a complaint filed against Judge Armando R. Ricafort of the Municipal Trial Court of Siaton, Negros Oriental, in his capacity as then Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Dumaguete City, Branch 44, for his failure to transmit to the Court of Appeals the records of Civil Case No. 11437, within the period prescribed in Section 10, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court.

The following facts are undisputed.

Complainant is the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 11437, entitled "Saturnino Obañana et al. vs. Dumaguete Rural Bank, Inc., et al." for the annulment of a foreclosure sale plus damages with a request for preliminary injunction and restraining order,1 filed on October 3, 1995 before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 44, Dumaguete City (RTC for brevity). On September 15, 1997, complainant received a copy of the RTCs decision dismissing his complaint. Complainant filed a notice of appeal on September 22, 1997 which was approved by the RTC on September 23, 1997 in its Order, to wit:

Plaintiffs, having seasonably filed their notice of appeal dated September 22, 1997, to the Courts Order dated September 15, 1997, the same is hereby GRANTED.

Considering that the entire records of this case are still with the Court of Appeals, Manila by virtue of another pending incident, this Court will transmit said records back to the Court of Appeals, as soon as it arrives.

SO ORDERED.2 (Emphasis supplied)

However, the records of Civil Case No. 11437 were elevated to the Court of Appeals only on February 6, 2002 or after a lapse of almost five years from the date the Notice of Appeal was approved.3 Thus, the herein complaint against Judge Alvin L. Tan, as the then presiding judge of the RTC and Judge Armando Ricafort of MTC, Siaton, Negros Oriental, as then Clerk of Court of the same RTC.

In view of the death of Judge Alvin L. Tan, the administrative complaint against to him is considered closed and terminated.4

In his Comment dated July 21, 2003, respondent Judge Ricafort admits that the delay in the transmittal of the records of Civil Case No. 11437 to the Court of Appeals was due to his negligence in the supervision of his subordinates. He claims however that the delay in the transmittal of the records is only two years, reckoned from the time the records were returned to the trial court, and not five years as claimed by complainant. He also maintains that he had no malicious intent or any ulterior motive in delaying the transmittal of said records and that this is the first time that this ever happened to him. He promises not to let this happen again.5

In detail, respondent narrates that: on November 7, 1996, as then Branch Clerk of Court of the RTC, he transmitted the entire records of Civil Case No. 11437 to the Court of Appeals in Manila because of a petition for certiorari filed with the appellate court pending the finality of the trial courts proceedings; on September 22, 1997, complainant filed a Notice of Appeal from the decision rendered by the RTC which was approved the following day with the qualification that the entire records will be transmitted as soon as the RTC receives the same from the appellate court; on September 30, 1999, the records of the case were returned and received by one of the personnel of the RTC but was not immediately brought to the attention of respondent until sometime in January, 2000 when complainant asked for the records of the case; this prompted respondent to call his staff assistant and instruct the latter to pull out the records from the files and prepare the paging and the table of contents thereof; several months passed and complainant followed up the case again; to respondents surprise, the records were still not transmitted to the Court of Appeals; the staff assistant reasoned that her volume of work and the non-submission of some stenographers of their transcripts prevented her from preparing the records; respondent also claimed that he was kept busy by his many tasks in court; in the meantime, respondent signed many communications transmitting records to the Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court which led him to believe that there are no more records left in their Branch for transmittal, until February 6, 2002, when the staff assistant presented to him the transmittal letter for Civil Case No. 11437 for signing and mailing to the Court of Appeals.6

Respondent expresses his apology to complainant and the Court Administrator for his negligence in said case.7

In its evaluation, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) opines:

Section 10, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court mandates that among the duties of the Clerk of Court in cases of appeal is to transmit the records of the case to the appellate court within thirty (30) days from perfection of the appeal. Here, respondent transmitted the records of the case way beyond the period required by the rules.

The Court held time and again that the failure of the Clerk of Court to transmit the records of the case constitutes negligence that warrants disciplinary action. Prompt transmittal of the records of appealed cases to the appellate court is necessary to ensure the speedy disposition of the case, especially in criminal cases.

In A.M. No. 97-9-278-RTC (Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC, Branch 29 and 59, Toledo City, July 8, 1998), the Court imposed a fine in the amount of P1,000.00 with admonition and warning on a Branch Clerk of Court who failed to transmit timely the records of two (2) criminal cases and two (2) civil cases subject of appeal. In OCA vs. Atty. Marie Yvette Go (A.M. No. P-01-1485, November 29, 2001), the Court admonished a Branch Clerk of Court for failing to follow-up with the Court Stenographer the submission of the required stenographic notes in a case subject of an appeal, thus, delaying the transmittal of the records of the case to the appellate court.

In the case at hand, the respondent not only acknowledges that the delay in the transmittal of the records of the case was his fault, he also expresses remorse over the consequence of his omission. The explanation he offers only shows that the omission attributable to him is not tainted with any malice or bad faith. Considering however the long delay in the transmittal of the records of the case, the respondent should be penalized with a fine.8

and recommends that respondent Judge, in his capacity as then Clerk of Court of the RTC be ordered to pay a FINE of P5,000.00.9

After reviewing the records of this case, we approve the findings and recommendation of the OCA.

Section 10, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court explicitly provides:

Sec. 10. Duty of clerk of court of the lower court upon perfection of appeal.--- Within thirty (30) days after perfection of all the appeals in accordance with the preceding section, it shall be the duty of the clerk of court of the lower court:

(a) To verify the correctness of the original record or the record on appeal, as the case may be, and to make a certification of its correctness;

(b) To verify the completeness of the records that will be transmitted to the appellate court;

(c) If found to be incomplete, to take such measures as may be required to complete the records, availing of the authority that he or the court may exercise for this purpose; and

(d) To transmit the records to the appellate court.

If the efforts to complete the records fail, he shall indicate in his letter of transmittal the exhibits or transcripts not included in the records being transmitted to the appellate court, the reasons for their non-transmittal, and the steps taken or that could be taken to have them available.

The clerk of court shall furnish the parties with copies of his letter of transmittal of the records to the appellate court. (Emphasis supplied)

Section 12 of the same rule also states that:

Sec. 12. Transmittal.--- The clerk of the trial court shall transmit to the appellate court the original record or the approved record on appeal within thirty (30) days from the perfection of the appeal, together with the proof of payment of the appellate court docket and other lawful fees, a certified true copy of the minutes of the proceedings, the order of approval, the certificate of correctness, the original documentary evidence referred to therein, and the original and three (3) copies of the transcripts. Copies of the transcripts and certified true copies of the documentary evidence shall remain in the lower court for the examination of the parties. (Emphasis supplied)

Excluding the period when the records were with the Court of Appeals because of a petition for certiorari, the respondent took more than two years from the time the records were returned to the RTC on September 30, 1999 to transmit the same to the Court of Appeals for purposes of complainants appeal. It was only on February 6, 2002 that he signed and mailed the transmittal to the Court of Appeals. Notwithstanding the fact that complainant had been following up with respondent the transmittal of the records since January, 2000, he still failed to promptly act on the matter.

Evidently, respondent is administratively liable for failure to transmit the records of Civil Case No. 11437 within the period allowed by the rules.

We have emphasized, time and again, the heavy burden and responsibility which the court officials and employees are mandated to observe, in view of their exalted positions as keepers of the public faith. Any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided. Indeed, this Court shall not countenance 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 the faith of the people in the Judiciary.10

As clerk of court, respondent occupied a very sensitive position that requires competence and efficiency to insure the publics confidence in the administration of justice. He is expected to uphold the law and implement the pertinent rules and must be assiduous in the performance of his duties since he performs delicate administrative functions that are essential to the prompt and proper administration of justice. He cannot err without affecting the integrity of the court or the efficient administration of justice. Thus, he cannot be permitted to slacken on his job under one pretext or another.11

As clerk of court, respondent is also responsible in ensuring the orderly and efficient record management system in the court and to supervise the personnel under his office to function effectively.12 He is chiefly responsible for the shortcomings of subordinates to whom administrative functions normally pertaining to them are delegated.13 Thus, the negligence of respondents staff notwithstanding, respondent is still primarily liable. His negligence in this case clearly warrants disciplinary action.

In view of respondents admission of his fault, his express apology to complainant and to the Court Administrator, the lack of ill motive on his part, his promise not to let this happen again, and the fact that this is his first offense, we find the recommended fine of P5,000.00 to be just and proper in this case.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Armando R. Ricafort of MTC Siaton, Negros Oriental, in his capacity as then Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 44, Dumaguete City, is found GUILTY of NEGLIGENCE in the performance of his duties. He is imposed a FINE of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) with a WARNING that the repetition of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Puno*, Quisumbing**, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:

* On official leave.

** Acting Chairman.

1 Rollo, pp. 5-12.

2 Id., p. 4.

3 Id., p. 1.

4 Loyao vs. Caube, A.M. No. P-02-1599, April 30, 2003.

5 Rollo, p. 52.

6 Id., pp. 50-52.

7 Id., pp. 50, 52.

8 Id., pp. 57-58.

9 Id., p. 58.

10 Angeles vs. Eduarte, A.M. No. P-03-1710, August 28, 2003.

11 Pace vs. Leonardo, A.M. No. P-03-1675, August 6, 2003; Office of the Court Administrator vs. Corpuz, A.M. No. P-00-1418, September 24, 2003.

12 Juntilla vs. Calleja, A.M. No. P-96-1225, September 23, 1996, 262 SCRA 291, 296.

13 Aguilar vs. How, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1783, July 31, 2003.




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83, July 31, 2003.




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