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A.M. No. MTJ-11-1778 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 08-1966- MTJ), June 05, 2013 - MARICOR L. GARADO, Complainant, v. REYES, JJ. JUDGE LIZABETH GUTIERREZ-TORRES, Respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ-11-1778 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 08-1966- MTJ), June 05, 2013 - MARICOR L. GARADO, Complainant, v. REYES, JJ. JUDGE LIZABETH GUTIERREZ-TORRES, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

A.M. No. MTJ-11-1778 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 08-1966- MTJ), June 05, 2013

MARICOR L. GARADO, Complainant, v. REYES, JJ. JUDGE LIZABETH GUTIERREZ-TORRES, Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

 

Before us is a Verified Complaint-Affidavit,1 filed by complainant Maricor L. Garado charging respondent Judge Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres, Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 60, Mandaluyong City, with violation of Rule 3.05,2 Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct in connection with Civil Case No. 20129 entitled “Maricor Garado v. Rose Virgie Estor.

Complainant alleges that she is the plaintiff in the aforesaid civil case for sum of money and damages. She complains that the case is covered by the 1991 Revised Rule on Summary Procedure and only involves a claim for the payment of a loan amounting to P50,000 plus interest and a claim for damages amounting to P30,000, but the case has remained unresolved for more than 20 months from the time it was filed.

Complainant narrates that her complaint against defendant Rose Virgie Estor was filed on August 22, 2005. After respondent judge denied defendant Estor’s motion to dismiss on July 3, 2006, Estor thereafter filed an Urgent Ex-parte Motion for Extension of Time (To File Responsive Pleading) followed by a second motion to dismiss on November 16, 2006. Complainant, meanwhile, filed a motion to render judgment with an opposition to the second motion to dismiss on November 27, 2006. The two motions were submitted for resolution on November 27, 2006 and January 15, 2007, respectively, but both motions remained unresolved as of the date of the filing of the complaint on May 9, 2007.

In a 1st Indorsement3 dated May 17, 2007, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Torres to file her Comment on the complaint within ten days. Respondent judge received the 1st Indorsement on May 25, 2007, but failed to comply with the directive. Thus, the OCA issued a 1st Tracer4 against respondent judge on July 24, 2007 requiring her to file the required Comment within five days from notice. Respondent judge also received the 1st Tracer on August 3, 2007, but still failed to comply.

On March 10, 2008, this Court’s Third Division issued a Resolution5 directing respondent judge to: (1) show cause why she should not be administratively sanctioned in view of her refusal to submit her Comment despite the two directives, and (2) file her Comment within five days from receipt of notice, otherwise, an administrative case will be filed against her. Respondent judge received a copy of the Resolution on April 16, 2008, but again ignored the same. Consequently, the Court issued another Resolution6 on July 14, 2008 imposing upon Judge Torres a fine of P1,000, to be paid within ten days from receipt, or imprisonment of five days if the fine is not paid within the period of ten days. The July 14, 2008 Resolution also directed respondent judge to comply with the Court’s Show Cause Resolution dated March 10, 2008. Despite receipt of the Resolution, however, Judge Torres neither complied with the Resolution nor paid the fine.

Thus, on April 21, 2010, the Court issued a Resolution7 and resolved to await the payment of the fine by respondent judge; to consider the filing of her Comment as waived; and to refer this administrative matter to the OCA for final evaluation, report and recommendation.

On November 11, 2010, the OCA submitted its Memorandum8 to the Court finding respondent judge administratively liable and recommending that the Court:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

  1. RE-DOCKET th[e] case as a regular administrative matter against respondent Judge Lizabeth G. Torres;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  2. DISMISS respondent Judge Lizabeth G. Torres from the service and impose upon her all the attendant penalties; and

  3. IMPOSE upon respondent Judge Lizabeth G. Torres the penalty of FIVE (5) days imprisonment for her failure to pay the FINE of P1,000.00 within the required period, pursuant to the Court’s Resolution dated 14 July 2008.9

In recommending the penalty of dismissal, the OCA noted that in five previous administrative cases,10 respondent was found liable for undue delay in rendering a decision, resolution or order, and sternly warned that the commission of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more severely. The OCA also noted eight other pending administrative cases11 filed by different litigants against respondent judge involving offenses of similar nature. As well, the OCA noted the four instances under the present administrative case where respondent judge failed to comply with directives/orders issued by this Court.

We agree with the OCA that respondent judge should be held administratively liable.

At the outset, the Court notes that respondent had been given ample opportunity to address the complaint against her. The OCA sent and respondent judge received the 1st Indorsement dated May 17, 2007 and 1st Tracer dated July 24, 2007, both of which explicitly required her to file her Comment on the complaint. However, up until her dismissal from the service by the Court on November 23, 2010,12 respondent had not complied with the OCA directives. Moreover, respondent also failed to comply, despite due notice, with the Resolutions dated March 10, 2008 and July 14, 2008 of the Court itself.

Respondent’s failure to submit her Comment and compliance as required by the OCA and this Court is tantamount to insubordination,13 gross inefficiency, and neglect of duty.14 It was respondent’s duty then not only to obey the lawful orders of her superiors, but also to defend herself against complainant’s charges and prove her fitness to remain a member of the bench. By her failure to comply with the OCA and this Court’s directives, respondent judge has completely lost her chance to defend herself.

As to the merits of the administrative complaint, the pleadings and evidence on record clearly establish respondent’s liability for undue delay in resolving Civil Case No. 20129.

Section 15(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, mandates that cases or matters filed with the lower courts must be decided or resolved within three months from the date they are submitted for decision or resolution. With respect to cases falling under the 1991 Revised Rule on Summary Procedure, first level courts are only allowed 30 days following the receipt of the last affidavit and position paper, or the expiration of the period for filing the same, within which to render judgment. Section 6 of the said Rule also requires first level courts to render judgment motu proprio or upon motion of the plaintiff if the defendant fails to file an answer to the complaint within the allowable period.

Judges are oft-reminded of their duty to act promptly upon cases and matters pending before their courts. Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct directs judges to “dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.” Canons 6 and 7 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics further exhort judges to be prompt and punctual in the disposition and resolution of cases and matters pending before their courts:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

6. PROMPTNESS

He should be prompt in disposing of all matters submitted to him, remembering that justice delayed is often justice denied.

7. PUNCTUALITY

He should be punctual in the performance of his judicial duties, recognizing that the time of litigants, witnesses, and attorneys is of value and that if the judge is unpunctual in his habits, he sets a bad example to the bar and tends to create dissatisfaction with the administration of justice.

Administrative Circular No. 1 dated January 28, 1988 likewise reminds all judges to observe scrupulously the periods prescribed in Section 15, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution and to act promptly on all motions and interlocutory matters pending before their courts.

Prompt disposition of cases is attained basically through the efficiency and dedication to duty of judges. If judges do not possess those traits, delay in the disposition of cases is inevitable to the prejudice of litigants. Accordingly, judges should be imbued with a high sense of duty and responsibility in the discharge of their obligation to administer justice promptly.15 In this case, respondent judge failed to live up to the exacting standards of duty and responsibility that her position required. Upon the failure of the defendant Estor to file her Answer in Civil Case No. 20129, respondent was then required under Section 6 of the 1991 Revised Rule on Summary Procedure to render judgment in Civil Case No. 20129 within 30 days. She failed to do so contrary to the rationale behind the said Rule, which was precisely adopted to promote a more expeditious and inexpensive determination of cases, and to enforce the constitutional rights of litigants to the speedy disposition of cases.16

Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended, classifies undue delay in rendering a decision and violation of Supreme Court directives as less serious charges which are punishable with the penalty of suspension from office without salary and other benefits for one month to three months, or a fine of P10,000 to P20,000. Given that respondent had been previously dismissed from the service in Lugares v. Gutierrez-Torres,17 however, the penalty of suspension is already inapplicable. Thus, the Court imposes upon respondent for her undue delay in resolving Civil Case No. 20129 a fine in the maximum amount of P20,000, and another fine of P10,000 for her repeated failure to obey this Court’s directives, both amounts to be deducted from her accrued leave credits.

WHEREFORE, respondent Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres is found LIABLE of the less serious charges of undue delay in resolving Civil Case No. 20129 and violation of Supreme Court directives. She is FINED the amount of P20,000 for the first offense and another P10,000 for the second offense, both amounts to be deducted from her accrued leave credits. To effect the penalties imposed, the Employee’s Leave Division, Office of Administrative Services-OCA, is DIRECTED to ascertain respondent Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres’s total earned leave credits. Thereafter, the Finance Division, Fiscal Management Office-OCA, is DIRECTED to compute the monetary value of respondent Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres’s total accrued leave credits and deduct therefrom the amount of the fines imposed, without prejudice to whatever penalty the Court may impose on other remaining and/or pending administrative cases against her, if any.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., (Chairperson), Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, and Reyes, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 6-9.cralawlibrary

2 RULE 3.05. - A judge shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.cralawlibrary

3Rollo, p. 4.cralawlibrary

4 Id. at 3.cralawlibrary

5 Id. at 62.cralawlibrary

6 Id. at 66-67.cralawlibrary

7 Id. at 70.cralawlibrary

8 Id. at 81-89. Signed by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and Assistant Court Administrator Jenny Lind R. Aldecoa-Delorino.cralawlibrary

9 Id. at 89.cralawlibrary

10 Id. at 84. The OCA stated that respondent judge was found guilty on September 30, 2005 of Gross Inefficiency and fined P20,000 in A.M. No. MTJ-05-1611. On July 30, 2007, she was found guilty of Undue Delay in Resolving a Demurrer to Evidence and fined P20,000 in A.M. No. MTJ-06-1653. On October 24, 2008, she was found administratively liable of Undue Delay in Resolving a Motion to Withdraw Information in A.M. No. MTJ-08-1721 and fined P10,000 with an additional fine of P10,000 for repeated failure to comply with the Court’s directives to file comment. On February 24, 2009, she was found guilty of Undue Delay in Resolving Motion to Withdraw Informations and suspended for one month without pay and other benefits in A.M. No. MTJ-09-1733. Lastly, on September 15, 2010, she was found guilty of Gross Inefficiency for Failing to Resolve Motion to Withdraw Information and fined P20,000 in A.M. No. MTJ-10-1764.

11 Id. at 86-87. The OCA enumerated the following cases:cralavvonlinelawlibrary
  1. A.M. No. MTJ-08-1722 (07-1944-MTJ) for Violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, where the OCA states that it recommended a penalty of suspension for 6 months in its Agenda Report dated July 28, 2008;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  2. A.M. No. MTJ-08-1723 (08-2031-MTJ) for Undue Delay in Deciding Case, where the OCA states that it recommended a penalty of suspension for 6 months in its Agenda Report dated July 28, 2008;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  3. A.M. No. MTJ-08-1719 (08-2030-MTJ) for Gross Inefficiency, Undue Delay, Manifest Partiality, Gross Ignorance of the Law, Willful Disobedience and Defiance of Authority, where the OCA recommended a penalty of suspension for 6 months in its Agenda Report dated September 10, 2008;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  4. A.M. No. MTJ-10-1758 (09-3-45 MeTC) where the OCA recommended dismissal from service, forfeiture of all benefits and disqualification from reinstatement in its Memorandum Report dated March 15, 2010;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  5. A.M. OCA IPI No. 09-2115-MTJ for Undue Delay in Deciding a Case and Violation of Court Directive;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  6. A.M. OCA IPI No. 09-2131-MTJ for Gross Neglect of Duty, Gross Inefficiency and Manifest Partiality;chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

  7. A.M. OCA IPI No. 10-2279-MTJ for Undue Delay in Deciding Case where the OCA also notes that respondent judge failed to file her Comment as required in the OCA’s 1st Indorsement dated June 10, 2010; and

  8. A.M. OCA IPI No. 10-2291-MTJ for Dereliction of Duty and Grave Abuse of Authority where respondent judge failed to file the required Comment as directed by the OCA in its 1st Indorsement dated August 4, 2010.
12Lugares v. Gutierrez-Torres, A.M. Nos. MTJ-08-1719, MTJ-08-1722 and MTJ-08-1723, November 23, 2010, 635 SCRA 716.cralawlibrary

13 See Tan v. Sermonia, A.M. No. P-08-2436, August 4, 2009, 595 SCRA 1, 13.cralawlibrary

14 See Sabado v. Cajigal, A.M. No. RTJ-91-666, March 12, 1993, 219 SCRA 800, 805.cralawlibrary

15Valdez v. Torres, A.M. No. MTJ-11-1796, June 13, 2012, 672 SCRA 89, 96.cralawlibrary

16 Sevilla v. Lindo, A.M. No. MTJ-08-1714, February 9, 2011, 642 SCRA 277, 284-285.cralawlibrary

17 Supra note 12.
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