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A.M. No. 08-5-305-RTC, July 09, 2013 - RE: FAILURE OF FORMER JUDGE ANTONIO A. CARBONELL TO DECIDE CASES SUBMITTED FOR DECISION AND TO RESOLVE PENDING MOTIONS IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 27, SAN FERNANDO, LA UNION.

A.M. No. 08-5-305-RTC, July 09, 2013 - RE: FAILURE OF FORMER JUDGE ANTONIO A. CARBONELL TO DECIDE CASES SUBMITTED FOR DECISION AND TO RESOLVE PENDING MOTIONS IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 27, SAN FERNANDO, LA UNION.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

A.M. No. 08-5-305-RTC, July 09, 2013

RE: FAILURE OF FORMER JUDGE ANTONIO A. CARBONELL TO DECIDE CASES SUBMITTED FOR DECISION AND TO RESOLVE PENDING MOTIONS IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 27, SAN FERNANDO, LA UNION.

R E S O L U T I O N

BERSAMIN, J.:

 

This administrative case originates from the judicial audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on March 3 and 4, 2008 in the Regional Trial Court of San Fernando, La Union, Branch 27, in view of the disability retirement of Presiding Judge Antonio A. Carbonell on December 31, 2007.

According to the Audit Team’s Report, Branch 27 had a total caseload of 231 cases, consisting of 147 criminal cases and 84 civil cases, and Judge Carbonell failed to decide 41 criminal cases (one inherited) and 22 civil cases (four inherited), namely:  Criminal Case Nos. 1183, 4559, 5117, 3532, 3672, 5165, 5007, 5946, 6934, 5763, 7014, 5991, 4724, 6311, 6076, 4789, 6297, 5424, 4928, 6403, 6816, 5635, 5666, 5134, 5865, 6284, 6454, 5394, 6770, 5375, 5356, 7557, 5940, 6311, 6333, 7729, 7111, 6325, 6068, 6517, and 7766; and Civil Case Nos. 3009, 4564, 4563, 4714, 3647, 4362, 6041, 4798, 4561, 6989, 2882, 6185, 7153, 7163, LRC 2332, SCA 7198, 7310, 3487, 7327, 7331, 7298, and  7323.1

Judge Carbonell was also reported to have failed to resolve pending motions or incidents in four criminal cases and 12 civil cases, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. 7559, 6409, 7787, and 7788; and Civil Case Nos. 4793, LRC 1308, 7064, 4973, SP 2901, SP 2952, AC 1797, 7100, 7152, 7060, SP 2986, and SP 2987.2

In a Memorandum dated May 15, 2008, the OCA recommended to the Court that a fine of P50,000.00 be imposed upon Judge Carbonell for gross inefficiency for failing to promptly decide the cases and to resolve pending motions and incidents.3

On June 17, 2008, the Court directed the Clerk of Court to furnish Judge Carbonell with a copy of the Audit Team’s Report, and ordered him  to submit his comment on the report within ten days from notice.4

Not having received the comment from Judge Carbonell despite the lapse of the time given, the Court resolved on September 21, 2010 to require him to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt.5

Judge Carbonell replied,6 stating that he had incorporated his comment/compliance to the June 17, 2008 resolution in the letter dated July 17, 2008 (Re: Very Urgent Request for Release of Disability Retirement Benefits and Money Value of Accrued Leave Credits) he had sent to Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno.7  He remarked that the Court had actually granted his request for the payment of his disability retirement benefits subject to the retention of P200,000.00 pending resolution of the pending administrative cases against him.8

In his July 17, 2008 letter to Chief Justice Puno, Judge Carbonell surmised that the Audit Team might have overlooked the fact that he had inherited some of the undecided cases from the predecessor judge; that said  cases had no transcripts of stenographic notes, because of which he was impelled to require the parties to submit their respective memoranda; that the cases would only be considered submitted for decision after the parties would have filed their respective memoranda; and that he had undergone a quadruple heart bypass operation in 2005 that had adversely affected his pace in deciding the cases.

On November 23, 2010, the Court referred Judge Carbonell’s letter to the OCA for evaluation, report, and recommendation.9

In its Memorandum dated February 2, 2011,10 the OCA reiterated its recommendation to impose a fine of P50,000.00 on Judge Carbonell, noting that he had failed to render any valid reason for his delay in deciding the cases submitted for decision and in resolving the pending motions or incidents in other cases. The OCA noted that only five cases submitted for decision had been inherited; and that the case records did not bear any requests for extension of time or any directive for the transcription of stenographic notes. It stressed that heavy caseload would not justify the failure to promptly decide and resolve cases because he could have simply asked the Court for an extension of time.

The recommendation of the OCA is well-taken, subject to the modification of the penalty to be imposed.

As a frontline official of the Judiciary, a trial judge should at all times act with efficiency and probity.  He is duty-bound not only to be faithful to the law, but also to maintain professional competence.  The pursuit of excellence ought always to be his guiding principle. Such dedication is the least that he can do to sustain the trust and confidence that the public have reposed in him and the institution he represents.11

The Court cannot overstress its policy on prompt disposition or resolution of cases.12  Delay in the disposition of cases is a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the judicial system, as judges have the sworn duty to administer justice without undue delay.13  Thus, judges have been constantly reminded to strictly adhere to the rule on the speedy disposition of cases and observe the periods prescribed by the Constitution for deciding cases, which is three months from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum for lower courts.14  To further impress upon judges such mandate, the Court has issued guidelines (Administrative Circular No. 3-99 dated January 15, 1999) that would insure the speedy disposition of cases and has therein reminded judges to scrupulously observe the periods prescribed in the Constitution.

Nonetheless, the Court has been mindful of the plight of our judges and understanding of circumstances that may hinder them from promptly disposing of their businesses.  Hence, the Court has allowed extensions of time to decide cases beyond the 90-day period. All that a judge needs to do is to request and justify an extension of time to decide the cases, and the Court has almost invariably granted such request.

Judge Carbonell failed to decide a total of 63 cases and to resolve 16 pending motions or incidents within the 90-day reglementary period. He intimated that his poor health affected his pace in deciding the cases. Had such been the case, then he should have explained his predicament to the Court and asked for an extension of time to decide the cases. Unfortunately, he failed to do so.

Judge Carbonell claims that some of the inherited cases had no transcripts of stenographic notes, thereby preventing him from resolving the cases on time. He posits that a case would not be considered submitted for decision if the parties did not yet file their respective memoranda.

The Audit Team’s Report shows that, in an apparent attempt to suspend the running of the 90-day period to decide the cases, Judge Carbonell liberally gave the parties in most of the overdue cases several extensions of time to file their respective memoranda. Some extensions were even for indefinite periods, with the parties being simply given “ample time to file their memo,” as the relevant court orders stated.

In view of the foregoing, Judge Carbonell’s excuses are futile in the light of the following provisions of Administrative Circular No. 28, dated July 3, 1989, viz:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

(3)
A case is considered submitted for decision upon the admission of the evidence of the parties at the termination of the trial. The ninety (90) days period for deciding the case shall commence to run from submission of the case for decision without memoranda; in case the Court requires or allows its filing, the case shall be considered submitted for decision upon the filing of the last memorandum or the expiration of the period to do so, whichever is earlier. Lack of transcript of stenographic notes shall not be a valid reason to interrupt or suspend the period for deciding the case unless the case was previously heard by another judge not the deciding judge in which case the latter shall have the full period of ninety (90) days from the completion of the transcripts within which to decide the same.
(4)
The court may grant extension of time to file memoranda, but the ninety (90) day period for deciding shall not be interrupted thereby.
Without a doubt, Judge Carbonell’s failure to decide several cases within the reglementary period, without justifiable and credible reasons, constituted gross inefficiency, warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions,15 like fines. The fines imposed have varied in each case, depending chiefly on the number of cases not decided within the reglementary period and other factors, including the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances like the damage suffered by the parties from the delay, the health condition and age of the judge, etc.16  Thus, in one case, the Court mitigated the liability of a Judge who had been suffering from illnesses and who had later retired due to disability, and imposed upon him a fine of P20,000.00 for failure to decide 31 cases.17

Considering that Judge Carbonell similarly retired due to disability, the Court believes that his poor health condition greatly contributed to his inability to efficiently perform his duties as a trial judge. That mitigated his administrative liability, for which reason the Court reduces the recommended penalty of fine from  P50,000.00 to P20,000.00.

WHEREFORE, Retired Judge Antonio A. Carbonell is ORDERED to pay a fine of P20,000.00 to be deducted from the P200,000.00 that was withheld from his retirement benefits, and the balance to be immediately released to him.

SO  ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J. Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Perez, Mendoza, Reyes, Perlas-Bernabe, and Leonen, JJ., concur.
Brion, J., on leave.


Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 2-14.cralawlibrary

2 Id.cralawlibrary

3 Id. at 15.cralawlibrary

4 Id. at 76.cralawlibrary

5 Id. at 82.cralawlibrary

6 Id. at 84-85.cralawlibrary

7 Id. at 86-87.cralawlibrary

8 Claim for Disability Retirement Benefits of Hon. Antonio A.  Carbonell, former Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 27, San Fernando, La Union, A.M. No. 12815-Ret., September 24, 2008.cralawlibrary

9Rollo, p. 98.cralawlibrary

10 Id. at 102-103.cralawlibrary

11Juson v. Mondragon, A.M. No. MTJ-07-1685, September 3, 2007, 532 SCRA 1, 13.cralawlibrary

12 Id. at 12.cralawlibrary

13Office of the Court Administrator v. Castañeda, A.M. No. RTJ-12-2316, October 9, 2012, 682 SCRA 321, 343.cralawlibrary

14 Section 15(1), Article VIII of the Constitution.cralawlibrary

15Re:  Report on the Judicial Audit and Physical Inventory of Pending Cases in the MTCC, Branch 1 and the RTC, Branch  57,  both in Lucena  City,  A.M. No. 96-7-257-RTC, December 2, 1999, 319 SCRA 507, 512.cralawlibrary

16Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC, Branches 29 and 59, Toledo City, A.M. No. 97-9-278-RTC, July 8, 1998, 292 SCRA 8, 23.cralawlibrary

17 Supra note 15.
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