[A.M. NO. RTJ-07-2034 : October 15, 2008]
ATTY. NENITA CENIZA-LAYESE, Complainant, v. JUDGE ENRIQUE C. ASIS, Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, Naval, Biliran, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
REYES, R.T., J.:
RESPONDENT Judge Enrique C. Asis stands charged with breach of procedure/ignorance of the law and knowingly asserting falsehood in his orders relative to the following cases he heard in his court:
(a) Civil Case No. B-1062 - Bethsua Limpiado v. Camilo Mission, et al., for Recovery of Possession;
(b) Civil Case No. B-1168 - Camilo Mission v. Bethsua Limpiado, for Annulment of Title; andcralawlibrary
(c) Crim. Case No. 2268 - People of the Philippines v. Bethsua Limpiado, for Perjury.
Complainant Nenita Ceniza-Layese is the counsel for Camilo Mission and his sibling in the civil cases. She is also the private prosecutor in the criminal case, where the private complainant is Fernito Mission, brother of Camilo.
In her letter-complaint1 dated July 29, 2004, addressed to then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., thru then Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.,2 complainant Atty. Layese of Mandaue City charged respondent with several infractions constituting ignorance of the law, breach of procedure, and knowingly rendering unjust orders.
Acting on the letter-complaint, Court Administrator Velasco, Jr. required respondent to submit his comment. On September 30, 2004, respondent submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) his comment.3 On the other hand, complainant filed her Reply4 to the comment on November 5, 2004.
The OCA submitted to this Court on January 4, 2007 its Report5 with the following recommendations:
1) The administrative matter be formally docketed as an administrative complaint against respondent Judge Asis; andcralawlibrary
2) Judge Asis be fined in the amount of twenty-one thousand pesos (
P21,000.00) with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with severely.
In its Resolution6 of February 7, 2007, the Court resolved to redocket the matter as an administrative complaint against respondent judge and to refer the same to Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.
Complying with the Court's directive, Justice Fernando notified the parties of the hearing on March 26, 2007. On March 26, 2007, the parties manifested that they were not submitting additional evidence. Thus, Justice Fernando ordered them to submit their respective memoranda within five (5) days.
Both parties complied with the Order. On May 15, 2007, Justice Fernando issued her Final Report exonerating respondent judge from three (3) charges, but finding him liable for dishonesty and grave misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct with respect to the three (3) other charges.
Justice Fernando submits that respondent judge is not administratively liable for:
a) allowing witness Fajardo Limpiado to testify as witness for the plaintiff although his name is not listed as such in the pre-trial order;
b) Suspending the proceedings in Civil Case No. B-1062 while defendant's Petition for Certiorari was pending in the Supreme Court; andcralawlibrary
c) Acting on plaintiff's ex parte motion to present witness Fajardo Limpiado for cross-examination (a litigious motion) without notice to defendant (complainant's clients).
She pointed out that complainant did not impute bad faith, malice, or corrupt motives to respondent. She found no evidence of them, too.
We agree. Respondent cannot be faulted for acting on plaintiff's ex parte motion to present witness Limpiado for cross-examination. The motion is indeed not litigious and may be heard ex parte. Moreover, respondent acted on the motion after the denial by the Supreme Court of the defendants' Petition for Certiorari.
We likewise find no bad faith, malice, or corrupt purpose attributable to respondent when he suspended the proceedings and allowed Fajardo Limpiado to testify as a substitute witness. The suspension of the proceedings was a mere error in judgment. It was also well within the judicial discretion of respondent to allow said witness to take the witness stand.
The acts of a judge which pertain to judicial functions are not subject to disciplinary action unless they are committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption, or bad faith.7 A judge may not be administratively charged for mere errors of judgment in the absence of showing of any bad faith, malice, or corrupt purpose on his part.8 Only judicial error tainted with bad faith, fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance or deliberate intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned.9
However, Justice Fernando finds respondent administratively liable for:
1) precipitately deciding the appeal of accused-appellant in Criminal Case No. 2268 based solely on his appeal memorandum and while the period given to private complainant to file his own memorandum had not yet expired;
2) adversely ruling against defendants in Civil Case No. B-1062 by declaring that on January 22, 2004 their right to cross-examine witness Fajardo Limpiado had been considered waived and the testimony of said witness shall remain as part of the records; and omitting in the Order of January 2003 the fact that Fajardo Limpiado is already dead; andcralawlibrary
3) knowingly asserting falsehood in the Orders dated March 10, 2003 and September 10, 2003.
It is obvious that there was unusual haste on the part of respondent to decide the appeal in Criminal Case No. 2268 without private complainant's memorandum. The decision was promulgated while the period given to private complainant to file memorandum had not yet expired. For violating private complainant's basic right to due process guaranteed by no less than the Constitution, respondent should be held accountable. Respondent's excuse that when he decided the appeal, the same was already ripe for decision, holds no water.
It also appears that when respondent issued the January 22, 2004 Order, he was fully aware that the witness Fajardo Limpiado had already passed away on January 10, 2004. Yet he omitted this fact in his Order and instead ruled adversely against defendants. Defendants and their counsel arrived late for the hearing on January 22, 2004. Verily, the cross-examination of Fajardo Limpiado was not possible under the circumstances.
Said omission betrays respondent's lack of candor and fairness. His intention to conceal a material fact is apparent. Certainly, a declaration that Fajardo Limpiado is already dead would render the Order nugatory.
It is worth stressing that respondent also stated in his comment that he considered defendant's right to cross-examine Fajardo Limpiado as waived upon motion of plaintiff. However, the transcript of stenographic notes of the assailed proceedings on January 22, 2004 reveals that no such motion was filed by plaintiff's counsel.
Respondent claims that his statement in the Order dated March 10, 2003 that "while the Petition for Certiorari was pending in the Supreme Court, witness Fajardo Limpiado died without having been cross-examined,"10 was only due to inadvertence.
Fajardo Limpiado's testimony was vehemently objected to by the defendants in the Regional Trial Court. They even questioned respondent's Order allowing the presentation of said witness via a Petition for Certiorari in the Supreme Court. This made the deceased witness Fajardo Limpiado somehow a controversial substitute witness for plaintiff. Thus, the fact of Limpiado's death, being material and relevant to the case, cannot easily slip away from respondent's mind.
Also, respondent made the following inconsistent statements: "While it is true that Benito (corrected as Benecio) Dublin was the one mentioned in the pre-trial as second witness for the plaintiff, respondent allowed the presentation of Fajardo Limpiado in his stead because Benito (Benecio) died before he could be presented."11
"Plaintiff's counsel informed the court that Mr. Benecio Dublin, the original witness to be presented was afraid to testify and he had no other witness except Fajardo Limpiado."12
The Orders dated March 10, 2003 and January 22, 2004, and respondent's Comment dated September 14, 2003, are proof of respondent's failure to cope with the standards of conduct required of him as a judge.
Finally, We come to the September 18, 2003 Order.
To recapitulate, complainant contended that respondent made falsehood in the Order dated September 18, 2003 by stating that "counsel for the defendant is the one who made the date available for hearing."13
In respondent's comment, however, he explained that the date of his Order, which is September 18, 2003, should be corrected to August 21, 2003. To impress upon the Court that no falsehood was asserted in the Order, he submitted complainant's motion for postponement dated July 16, 2003 requesting for the resetting of the hearing to August 21, 2003.
Incidentally, the Final Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Justice did not resolve the question on which is the correct date of the Order. Neither did she categorically state that respondent knowingly asserted falsehood in the Order of September 18, 2003. Nevertheless, Justice Fernando noted that regardless of whether the Order should be dated September 18, 2003 or August 21, 2003, respondent's error displayed his gross inefficiency.
The Court notes that Judge Asis has been found guilty of various administrative offenses in three (3) cases. On January 30, 1996, respondent judge was fined
P10,000.00 for gross irregularity in the performance of duties, violation of Supreme Court circulars, abuse of authority, and conduct unbecoming of a judge.14 On April 6, 2000, respondent judge was suspended for ten (10) days and fined P40,000.00 for serious inefficiency.15 Again, on January 15, 2002, he was reprimanded and fined P5,000.00 for incompetence in not acting speedily on an election case.16
In the present case, indeed, respondent's infractions are equivalent to dishonesty and gross misconduct. Clearly, he transgressed the standards of integrity, competence, and diligence17 under the Code of Judicial Conduct. In effect, respondent's violations displayed his lack of competence, probity, and moral uprightness, the essential qualities of a member of the Judiciary.
Under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, dishonesty and gross misconduct are serious offenses punishable by either dismissal from the service, suspension from office or fine under Section 11 of the same rule. Considering the various offenses committed by respondent, the appropriate penalty is dismissal from the service. However, in view of respondent's compulsory retirement on July 15, 2007, We impose on him a fine of
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds respondent Judge Enrique C. Asis GUILTY OF GROSS MISCONDUCT and DISHONESTY and imposes on him a FINE of TWENTY THOUSAND PESOS (
P20,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement pay.