WILMER SALAZAR, A.M. No. P-04-1908
Complainant, (Formerly OCA IPI No. 03-1741-P)
versus ' ' PUNO, J., Chairman,
' CALLEJO, SR.,
SUSAN A. LIMETA, TINGA, and
LEGAL RESEARCHER, CHICO-NAZARIO, JJ.
REGIONAL TRIAL COURT,
IMUS, CAVITE, BRANCH 20,
August 16, 2005
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D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
The instant administrative matter refers to the charges of violation of Republic Act No. 3019 against Susan A, Limeta, Legal Researcher, Regional Trial Court, Imus, Cavite, Branch 20, relative to Civil Case No. 266-02 for declaration of nullity of marriage. The charges are contained in the Affidavit-Complaint  filed by Wilmer Salazar, dated August 19, 2003.
Pursuant to the recommendation  of the Office of the Court Administrator the Court resolved to re-docket the instant case as a regular administrative matter, and refer the same to Executive Judge Norberto J. Quisumbing, Jr., RTC, Imus, Cavite, for investigation, report and recommendation. 
According to the complainant, the
respondent represented herself as a lawyer and agreed to help him file a
petition for declaration of nullity of marriage. He then gave
According to the complainant, he
confronted the respondent inside Judge Tagle's chambers, but the respondent
denied that she made such promises. The case for annulment was eventually
decided in June 2003. The complainant then demanded the return of his money, or
For her part, the respondent vehemently denied the allegations in the complaint. She did not personally know the complainant, and was merely introduced by a certain Myra, an acquaintance. The respondent further claimed that the signatures in the receipts attached to the complaint were not hers. She admitted, however, that she asked her uncle, Atty. Ponciano Espiritu, to help the complainant with the said case, but only because the latter was 'crying in front of her. Atty. Espiritu then instructed her to receive from the complainant the payment for filing fee, attorney's fees and psychiatric fees, since he had other cases to attend to. The respondent claimed that she gave the money to Atty. Espiritu.
The respondent also disclosed that she filed perjury and harassment charges against the complainant which are still pending. She insisted that she never told Salazar that Judge Tagle was sick and that he went to the U.S., since all their communications were done through Myra. After Judge Tagle rendered a decision in the annulment case, the complainant sought the return of the lawyer's fee, as well as the psychiatric fee, and she told him that this could not be done as the services of the two professionals had already been rendered. The respondent presented the notarized affidavit of Atty. Espiritu to prove that he was the complainant's counsel in Civil Case No. 266-02 for declaration of nullity of marriage.
The Executive Judge, thereafter, conducted a hearing, after which he submitted his Administrative Investigation Report dated June 3, 2005, wherein he stated:
Salazar contends that he gave the amount of
The affidavit of Atty. Espiritu was identified by the respondent. However, Atty. Espiritu was not presented as a witness to identify the same. As such, the affidavit is hearsay and is not admissible as evidence. Complainant was denied his right to cross-examine Atty. Espiritu.
Respondent has, likewise, admitted that she asked her uncle, Atty. Ponciano Espiritu, to help complainant in his case for nullity of marriage. At first, she did not want to help him because she is an employee (legal researcher) of the RTC of Imus, Cavite, Branch 20. But he was crying in her presence and was begging her to help him. So, she agreed.
the fact that she at first did not want to help him, the act of agreeing with
him to look for a lawyer to represent him in a case to be filed in the branch
where she is the legal researcher and actually getting a lawyer to represent
complainant is deemed gross misconduct. This act is improper. Likewise, the
admission that she received from complainant the amount of
In Office of the Court Administrator vs. Anastacia Diaz, 303 SCRA 243, the Court explained the impropriety of receiving money from litigants ' thus:
It is not incumbent upon her to receive the monies. She should have refused to
accept the same even if for delivery to Mr. Edora. By accepting the monies for
delivery to Mr. Edora, she acted as Mr. Edora's agent, a circumstance that
would confirm the suspicion that respondent Anastacia Diaz takes special
interests in cases before the MCTC of Aborlan. This
There is no doubt that respondent actually received sums of money from the above-named complainants. As noted by the OCAD, respondent's claim that the amounts received were intended for a lawyer does not inspire belief, for the litigants could have handed them directly to the lawyer concerned and not through an employee of the court. The fact that respondent received money from litigants is enough basis for sanctioning her for grave misconduct.
The conduct of all officials and employees of an agency involved in the administration of justice, from the presiding judge to the most junior clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. The respect of the public for the judiciary should always be maintained. The need for honesty and integrity for those persons who served in the judiciary must be emphasized. They must behave at all times to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Accordingly, respondent must be penalized for having compromised the image, integrity and uprightness of the courts of law.
The foregoing recommendation is well taken.
Indeed, the fact that a clerk of court received money from a litigant is enough to sanction her for grave misconduct.  'In this case, the respondent not only admitted that she received money from the complainant; she, in fact, agreed to look for a lawyer, and even recommended the services of her uncle.
Although every office in the
government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for
moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the Judiciary.
Public officers and employees are
people.  A clerk of court in particular, as an essential and ranking officer of our judicial system, who performs delicate administrative functions vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice,  must be free from any impropriety. The conduct of court personnel must be free from any whiff of impropriety, not only with respect to their duties in the judicial branch but also to their behavior outside the court as private individuals; it is in this way that the integrity and the good name of the courts of justice shall be preserved. 
The Court cannot overemphasize the need for honesty and integrity on the part of all those who serve in the Judiciary. Thus, all those in the service have continuously been exhorted to behave at all times to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary, and to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.  As found by the Executive Judge:
the fact that [the respondent] at first did not want to help [the complainant],
the act of agreeing with him to look for a lawyer to represent him in a case to
be filed in the branch where she is the legal researcher and actually getting a
lawyer to represent complainant is deemed gross misconduct. This act is
improper. Likewise, the admission that she received from complainant the amount
In Loyao, Jr. v. Caube  the Court defined 'misconduct in this wise:
Misconduct is defined as any unlawful conduct on the part of a person concerned in the administration of justice prejudicial to the rights of the parties or to the right determination of the cause (Black's Law Dictionary, Fourth ed., p. 1150). It generally means wrongful, improper or unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose (Words and Phrases, Vol. 27, p. 466, citing Sewell v. Sharp, La App., 102 So 2d 259, 261). The term, however, does not necessarily imply corruption or criminal intent (Id., citing State Ex Rel Asbaugh v. Bahr, 40 N.E. 2d 677, 680, 68 Ohio App. 308). On the other hand, the term 'gross' connotes something 'out of all measure; beyond allowance; not to be excused; flagrant; shameful (Black's Law Dictionary, Fourth Ed., p. 832) 
Under Section 52A(3), Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, grave misconduct is punishable by dismissal from the service. However, since this is the respondent's first offense, the Court finds that she should be meted a one-year suspension.
The Court is wont to reiterate that the conduct of all those involved in the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must at all times be beyond reproach. Any act or omission on the part of court personnel that would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary is condemned by the Court and cannot be countenanced. 
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING , for gross misconduct, respondent Susan Limeta is hereby SUSPENDED for One (1) Year, effective immediately. She is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.
ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.
REYNATO S. PUNO
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ DANTE O. TINGA
Associate Justice Associate Justice
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
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