A.M. No. RTJ-14-2394 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3847-RTJ), September 01, 2014
GEORGE T. CHUA, Complainant, v. JUDGE FORTUNITO L. MADRONA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving the allegations in the complaint with substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. We are reminded that administrative charges against judges have been viewed with utmost care, as the respondent stands to face the penalty of dismissal or disbarment. The proceedings of this character are highly penal in nature and are to be governed by the rules or law applicable to criminal cases. The charges in such case must, therefore, be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
As to the first issue, the Investigator finds Judge Madrona not administratively liable as the allegations of the complaint are matters pertaining to the exercise of his adjudicative function.
It is undisputed that MBDC received the summons on March 23, 2011, and the latter was required to file an Answer until April 7, 2011. However, instead of filing an Answer to the complaint, it filed a motion to dismiss on April 7, 2011. In the RTC’s Order, dated August 1, 2011, it denied MBDC’s motion to dismiss, which order was received by the latter on September 26, 2011. Instead of filing an answer, MBDC filed a motion for reconsideration of the Order denying its motion to dismiss on October 7, 2011. Consequently, Judge Madrona directed Uniwide to file a Comment thereto and thereafter, MBDC filed its reply.
Pending compliance by the parties with Judge Madrona’s directive, Uniwide filed a Motion to Declare Defendant in Default and an Opposition/Comment thereto was filed by MBDC. On December 23, 2011, without resolving MBDC’s motion for reconsideration, Judge Madrona issued this assailed Order, which reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryIn view of the foregoing, it is the considered opinion of the Court that the defendant failed to file the requisite responsive pleading, Answer, within the reglementary period prescribed under Section 4, Rule 16 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. Having thus failed, the motion of plaintiff thus is with merit, the defendant is therefore hereby declared in default.
Let then the Clerk of Court receive the evidence ex-parte for the plaintiff and let the proper report/recommendation be submitted within 30 days after completion of the reception of evidence aforesaid on the basis of which the Court shall proceed to render judgment accordingly. The defendant in default, though, shall still be entitled to notice of subsequent proceedings but not to take part in the trial.
With the motion of plaintiff being granted and the defendant declared in default, action on the motion for reconsideration of defendant is thus rendered mooted.
After a careful review of the foregoing factual circumstances and the documentary evidence presented, the Investigator finds that Judge Madrona erred in declaring MBDC’s motion for reconsideration of the order denying motion to dismiss as mooted and in declaring MBDC in default in his assailed Order dated December 23, 2011.
At the outset, MBDC cannot be legally declared in default as it still has a pending motion for reconsideration of the order denying its motion to dismiss. Judge Madrona erred in resolving simultaneously the MBDC’s motion for reconsideration and Uniwide’s motion to declare defendant in default. With the filing of MBDC’s motion for reconsideration, the running of the prescriptive period to file an Answer was interrupted, thus, the counting of the period shall only begin to run upon MBDC’s receipt of the Order denying the motion for reconsideration of the RTC’s Order dated August 1, 2011.The case of Narciso vs. Garcia, is instructive thus:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
As a consequence of the motion to dismiss that defendant Narciso filed, the running of the period during which the rules required her to file her answer was deemed suspended. When the trial court denied her motion to dismiss, therefore, she had the balance of her period for filing an answer under Section 4, Rule 16 within which to file the same but in no case less than five days, computed from her receipt of the notice of denial of her motion to dismiss. Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrarySEC. 4. Time to plead. – If the motion is denied, the movant shall file his answer within the balance of the period prescribed by Rule 11 to which he was entitled at the time of serving his motion, but not less than five (5) days in any event, computed from his receipt of the notice of the denial. If the pleading is ordered to be amended, he shall file his answer within the period prescribed by Rule 11 counted from service of the amended pleading, unless the court provides a longer period.But apart from opposing defendant’s motion to dismiss, plaintiff Garcia asked the trial court to declare Narciso in default for not filing an answer, altogether disregarding the suspension of the running of the period for filing such an answer during the pendency of the motion to dismiss that she filed in the case. Consequently, when the trial court granted Garcia’s prayer and simultaneously denied Narciso’s motion to dismiss and declared her in default, it committed serious error. Narciso was not yet in default when the trial court denied her motion to dismiss. She still had at least five days within which to file her answer to the complaint.
What is more, Narcisco had the right to file a motion for reconsideration of the trial court’s order denying her motion to dismiss. No rule prohibits the filing of such a motion for reconsideration. Only after the trial court shall have denied it does Narciso become bound to file her answer to Garcia’s complaint. And only if she did not do so was Garcia entitled to have her declared in default. Unfortunately, the CA failed to see this point. xxx (emphasis supplied)
Judge Madrona cannot validly argue that the period of time for MBDC to file a motion for reconsideration of the order denying a motion to dismiss must be within the same period of time provided under Section 4 Rule 16 of the Rules of Court. A careful review of the said provision reveals that the period provided therein only applies to instances where a motion to dismiss is denied, thus, the movant can still file his answer within the balance of the period prescribed by law but no less than five days computed from the receipt of the notice of denial. The said provision explicitly provides that the same period of time shall apply to cases where a party intends to file a motion for reconsideration of the denial of a motion to dismiss. We stress that when the language of the law is clear, explicit and unequivocal, it admits no room for interpretation but merely application.
It bears stressing that under Section 1, Rule 37 of the Rules of Court, a motion for reconsideration shall be filed within the period for filing an appeal or to be precise, within 15 days from the receipt of the assailed judgment or resolution. Evidence shows that MBDC received the August 1, 2011 Order on September 26, 2011, hence, MBDC’s motion for reconsideration thereto was timely filed on October 7, 2011. Judge Madrona incorrectly ruled that MBDC failed to file its responsive pleading within the reglementary period, and granted Uniwide’s motion to declare MBDC in default. The undersigned Investigator finds that there was no basis to declare MBDC in default as Judge Madrona needs to resolve first its motion for reconsideration before the latter is legally required by law to file its Answer within the period of time allowed by law.
Be that as it may, it is worth emphasizing that jurisprudence is replete with cases holding that errors, if any, committed by a judge in the exercise of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through available judicial remedies. Disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies and, thus, cannot be pursued simultaneously with the judicial remedies accorded to parties aggrieved by their erroneous orders or judgments.
In the case of AMA vs. Hon. Bueser, et. al. citing the case of Equitable PCI Bank, Inc. v. Laviña, the Supreme Court ruled that resort to and exhaustion of judicial remedies and a final ruling on the matter, are prerequisites for the taking of appropriate measures against the judges concerned, whether of criminal, civil or administrative nature. If the assailed act is subsequently found and declared to be correct, there would be no occasion to proceed against him at all.
Records show that during the preliminary conference of the case on February 12, 2014, MBDC thru counsel, admitted that there are two separate petitions for certiorari filed with the Court of Appeals involving the interlocutory orders issued by Judge Madrona which are allegedly questionable. CA-G.R. SP No. 126858 assails Judge Madrona’s Orders, dated April 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012, which denied MBDC’s Motion for Inhibition and to Suspend Proceedings and granted Uniwide’s Motion to Set Case for Ex-parte Hearing for Further Reception of Plaintiff’s Evidence; and denied its motion for reconsideration thereto, respectively. In CA-G.R. SP No. 126938, MBDC assails Judge Madrona’s Order, dated August 13, 2012 denying its Motion to Set Aside the Order of Default and to Admit Attached Answer. Since these two petitions for certiorari are still pending and as there is no evidence on record that the same have already been resolved by the Court of Appeals or by the Supreme Court with finality, the instant administrative complaint is deemed pre-mature.
Assuming that Judge Madrona erroneously interpreted the provision of Section 4, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court in relation to this case, he cannot be administratively liable for such judicial error. It is settled that a judge’s failure to interpret the law or to properly appreciate the evidence presented does not necessarily render him administratively liable. Only judicial errors tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned. To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment.
In this case, other than the judicial error committed by Judge Madrona, MBDC failed to adduce convincing evidence showing that Judge Madrona’s error was so gross or patent, deliberate and malicious or incurred with evident bad faith. Neither was bias nor partiality established. Acts or conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice must be clearly shown before he can be branded the stigma of being biased and partial. In the same vein, bad faith or malice cannot be inferred simply because the judgment or order is adverse to a party.
A scrutiny of MBDC’s complaint against Judge Madrona’s alleged commission of acts amounting to gross ignorance of the law, manifest partiality and gross misconduct, reveals that the complaint actually pertains to Judge Madrona’s exercise of adjudicative functions. Assuming arguendo that Judge Madrona’s order is erroneous, such error cannot be corrected in an administrative proceeding but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies, such as a motion for reconsideration, an appeal, or a petition for certiorari. Administrative complaints against judges cannot be pursued simultaneously with the judicial remedies accorded to parties aggrieved by the erroneous orders or judgments of the former. Administrative remedies are neither alternative to judicial review nor do they cumulate thereto, where such review is still available to the aggrieved parties and the case has not yet been resolved with finality.
As to the second issue, the Investigator agrees with Judge Madrona that the changing of the period of time in the Minutes of November 18, 2011 hearing was authorized and made pursuant to the inherent powers of the court to correct error in his Order.
This Investigator is convinced that Judge Madrona acted in good faith when he corrected the Minutes of the November 18, 2011 hearing. We agree with Judge Madrona that the changes made from 15 days to 10 days for the parties to file their respective Comment and Reply were done to correct the error and in order to conform with the usual court practice of allowing only 10 days to file a comment. It was inaccurate for MBDC to claim that the correction was purposely intended to make it appear that MBDC untimely filed its comment to the subject motion as Uniwide was also given the same period of time to file its reply. More so, despite MBDC’s late filing of its comment beyond the 10 day period, the same was still considered in the resolution of Uniwide’s motion, thus, showing that the correction was not intended to solely prejudice MBDC but merely to conform with the court’s prevailing practice. Here, MBDC’s accusation against Judge Madrona for grave misconduct and manifest partiality is without basis.
It is significant to emphasize the inherent power of the courts as provided under Section 5 (g) of Rule 135, that every court shall have the inherent power to amend and control its processes and orders, so as to make them conformable to law and justice. “This power includes the right to reverse itself, especially when in its honest opinion it has committed an error or mistake in judgment, and that to adhere to its decision will cause injustice to a party-litigant.
Under the circumstances obtaining in this case, the undersigned Investigator considers Judge Madrona’s act of changing the period of time to file the comment and reply to have been done in good faith and in accordance with the court’s inherent power to amend and control his orders in the interest of justice and speedy disposition of the case. Judge Madrona’s contention was supported by the Affidavit executed by Mr. Rojo, comprehensively explaining the reason why the period of filing the pleadings in the Minutes of November 18, 2011 hearing was changed. Mr. Rojo’s affidavit remained uncontested and this Investigator believes that it should be given weight as he was the one who had conferred with the parties prior to the said hearing and had it signed by their counsels.
On a final note, if a party is prejudiced by the orders of a judge, his remedy lies with the proper court for proper judicial action and not with the office of the Court Administrator by means of an administrative complaint, as in this case. Since, as admitted by the parties, the assailed interlocutory orders of Judge Madrona were appealed through petitions for certiorari and are still pending with the Court of Appeals, hence, this Administrative case filed against Judge Madrona constitutes an abuse of court processes that serves to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice and further clog the courts’ dockets.
Judge Madrona, however, must be reminded to cease his practice of having his court interpreter, Mr. Rojo, prepare in advance the minutes of the hearing and requiring the parties to sign the same prior to hearing. The minutes must only be accomplished after the case is adjourned in order to avoid conflict and to reflect an accurate account of the proceedings.
The undersigned Investigator respectfully recommends that the administrative complaint against Judge Madrona be DISMISSED for patent lack of merit and the Complainant be Admonished to refrain from filing groundless administrative complaints against Judges without substantial or credible evidence.21
Indeed, no judicial officer should have to fear or apprehend being held to account or to answer for performing his judicial functions and office because such performance is a matter of public duty and responsibility. The office and duty to render and administer justice are function of sovereignty, and should not be simply taken for granted. As a recognized commentator on public offices and public officers has written:25chanrobleslawIt is a general principle, abundantly sustained by authority and reason, that no civil action can be sustained against a judicial officer for the recovery of damages by one claiming to have been injured by the officer’s judicial action within his jurisdiction. From the very nature of the case, the officer is called upon by law to exercise his judgment in the matter, and the law holds his duty to the individual to be performed when he has exercised it, however erroneous or disastrous in its consequences it may appear either to the party or to others.
A number of reasons, any one of them sufficient, have been advanced in support of this rule. Thus it is said of the judge: “His doing justice as between particular individuals, when they have a controversy before him, is not the end and object which were in view when his court was created, and he was selected to preside over or sit in it. Courts are created on public grounds; they are to do justice as between suitors, to the end that peace and order may prevail in the political society, and that rights may be protected and preserved. The duty is public, and the end to be accomplished is public; the individual advantage or loss results from the proper and thorough or improper and imperfect performance of a duty for which his controversy is only the occasion. The judge performs his duty to the public by doing justice between individuals, or, if he fails to do justice as between individuals, he may be called to account by the State in such form and before such tribunal as the law may have provided. But as the duty neglected is not a duty to the individual, civil redress, as for an individual injury, is not admissible.”
* In lieu of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, who is on Wellness Leave, per Special Order No. 1772.
** Per Special Order No. 1771 dated August 28, 2014.
1 Rollo, pp. 38-46.
2 Id. at 12-22.
3 Id. at 13-15.
4 Id. at 352-362.
5 Id. at 381-382.
6 Id. at 459-462.
7 Id. at 1-10.
8 Id. at 593.
9Rollo, p. 595.
10 Id. at 975-992.
11 Id. at 3 & 826-828.
12 Id. at 5 & 830.
13 G.R. No. 135885, April 28, 2000, 331 SCRA 302.
14Rollo, p. 6.
15 Id. at 834-837.
16 Section 4. Time to plead. – If the motion is denied, the movant shall file his answer within the balance of the period prescribed by Rule 11 to which he was entitled at the time of serving his motion, but not less than five (5) days in any event, computed from his receipt of the notice of the denial. If the pleading is ordered to be amended, he shall file his answer within the period prescribed by Rule 11 counted from service of the amended pleading, unless the court provides a longer period.
17Rollo, pp. 261-262.
18 Id. at 263.
19 Section 5. x x x
x x x x
(g) To amend and control its process and orders so as to make them conformable to law and justice;
x x x x
20 Supra note 10.
21Rollo, pp. 983-992.
22Lorenzana v. Judge Austria, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200, April 2, 2014.
23 Andrada v. Banzon, A.M. No. MTJ-08-1720, November 25, 2008, 571 SCRA 490, 494-495.
24 OCA IPI No. 12-204-CA-J, March 11, 2014,
25 Quoting Mechem, A Treatise on the Law of Public Offices and Officers, 1890, Callaghan and Co., Chicago, §619 (bold underscoring supplied for emphasis).