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A.M. No. RTJ-04-1873 - LETICIA I. KUMMER v. JUDGE LYLIHA L. ABELLA-AQUINO, ET AL.

A.M. No. RTJ-04-1873 - LETICIA I. KUMMER v. JUDGE LYLIHA L. ABELLA-AQUINO, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[A.M. NO. RTJ-04-1873 : February 28, 2005]

LETICIA I. KUMMER, Complainant, v. JUDGE LYLIHA L. ABELLA-AQUINO, SHERIFF MAXIMIANO CORSINO, COURT STENOGRAPHERS LETICIA F. DOMINGO, RAFAELA G. ANCHETA, ELMA C. SANTIAGO and ALTAGRACIA S. BAQUIRAN, INTERPRETER MARITES R. MANIO, CLERK III JOSEPHINE P. JOSE, PROCESS SERVER JONARD A. NIEVES and UTILITY WORKER EDGAR D. BATTUNG, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Tuguegarao City, Respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

In a verified Letter-Complaint, Atty. Ronaldo P. Solvado, as counsel for complainant Leticia I. Kummer, charged the following personnel of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tuguegarao City, Branch 4, with gross negligence and/or misconduct, and infidelity in the custody of judicial records: Presiding Judge Lyliha L. Abella-Aquino, Sheriff Maximiano Corsino, Stenographers Leticia F. Domingo, Rafaela G. Ancheta, Elma C. Santiago and Altagracia Baquiran, Interpreter Marites R. Manio, Clerk III Josephine P. Jose, Process Server Jonard A. Nieves, and Utility Worker Edgar D. Battung.

On October 12, 2000, the complainant was convicted of homicide in Criminal Case No. 1130 which was assigned to the RTC of Tuguegarao City, Branch 4. Immediately after the promulgation of judgment, she filed a Notice of Appeal, along with a Motion for Temporary Liberty under Bail pending her appeal. The trial court denied her prayer for release under bail, but gave due course to her appeal. The complainant then elevated the question of her release under bond to the Court of Appeals (CA) by way of a Petition for Certiorari. The CA granted her prayer, and she was thus released on bail.

According to the complainant, the records of Criminal Case No. 1130 were transmitted by the CA to the court of origin on October 9, 2002. Upon her receipt of the notice of transmittal, the complainant immediately made inquiries at the trial court since without the records her appeal would not be acted upon. The complainant further narrated'

During said follow-ups, the last of which was made on February 28, 2003, our client and the undersigned counsel were informed by the Officer-in-Charge or Acting Clerk of Court of the trial court, Leticia F. Domingo, with assurances from a certain Josephine P. Jose, the Clerk-in-Charge of criminal cases, and all other court personnel then present, that the complete records of the case have not yet been received since the time it was transmitted to the Court of Appeals on September 18, 2001. A Certification to this effect dated February 28, 2003 was even issued by the said Leticia F. Domingo. It may be well to add, at this juncture, that several weeks prior to February 28, 2003, the undersigned counsel made several phone calls to the said Josephine P. Jose who, after conferring with other court employees, repeatedly assured him that the entire records were already transmitted to the Court of Appeals.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

After a painstaking examination of the voluminous records at the Office of the Postmaster of Tuguegarao City and several inquiries made with the appropriate court personnel therein, our client discovered that the records of her case as transmitted by the Court of Appeals on July 10, 2002 and covered as such by registered letter number 3655 [were] actually delivered by Postman II Gerardo Catolico to Sheriff Maximiano Corsino on October 9, 2002. A certification to this effect was even issued by Postmaster Josue T. Tubaña of the Post Office of Tuguegarao City.1

On March 31, 2003, the complainant filed a Motion For Immediate Transmittal of the entire records to the CA. The respondent Judge then issued an Order dated April 8, 2003, worded as follows:

This refers to the Motion for Immediate Transmittal of the complete records of the above-entitled case.

The Court received a transmittal letter dated July 10, 2002 from Atty. Tessie L. Gatmaitan, Clerk of Court of the Court of Appeals, indicating therein that the complete record of the case was forwarded to this Court (photocopy of which [is] hereto attached). [H]owever, only the transmittal letter was received on October 9, 2002 without records attached to it. It is then clear that said records are still in the custody of the Court of Appeals.

In view of the above, the herein Motion cannot be given due course.

Atty. Ronaldo P. Salvado, counsel for the accused is hereby advised to verify the status of the case at the appellate court.2

Confused as to which court had custody of the records in question, the complainant then filed a "Manifestation of Inquiry"3 with the CA inquiring about the records of the criminal case. However, in a Resolution4 dated July 18, 2003, the Court resolved:

A. This Court's remand letter dated July 10, 2002 indicates that what were remanded were only the copy of the decision of January 22, 2001 and Entry of Judgment issued on February 15, 2001. It is to be noted that the remand letter states that no exhibits, OR on appeal, original records and TSNs were remanded. There is no indication in the rollo of the case that the Court a quo was ordered by this Court to elevate the original records of Crim. Case No. 1130.

B. Petitioner is informed that the original records are not with this Court per JRD verifications dated July 2 & 4, 2003.5

The complainant alleged that she filed a case against respondent Sheriff Corsino for infidelity in the custody of documents with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon. Only upon learning of such case from respondent Corsino did the respondent Judge order her personnel to conduct a thorough search for the missing records of Criminal Case No. 1130 on July 29, 2003. That same morning, a part of the records was found in one of the filing cabinets; later in the afternoon, the rest of the records were found in one of the steel cabinets in the courtroom where the records of the archives were kept.

The complainant alleged that the respondents conspired with each other to mislead her into believing that the entire records had been transmitted to the CA, when, in truth and in fact, it had never been transmitted. Due to the respondents' actuations, the resolution of the complainant's appeal was thereby unduly delayed, to her grave and irreparable damage and prejudice.

In her Comment6 dated January 28, 2004, the respondent Judge denied the charges against her, and claimed that the records of Criminal Case No. 1130 would show that she had regularly performed her duties. She alleged that when the judgment in the said criminal case was promulgated on October 12, 2000, she immediately directed the transmittal of the records to the CA, in view of the complainant's appeal. The respondent Judge then reminded her staff to immediately transmit the records along with the transcript of stenographic notes taken during the trial, specifically respondent Jose as the clerk in charge of the criminal cases, and respondent Gorospe, who was then the acting Clerk of Court. The respondent Judge claims that both respondents assured her that the records had been sent to the CA within the reglementary period.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

The respondent Judge further alleged that she repeatedly inquired from the two if the records had already been sent to the CA. This, according to her, was her regular routine in court.

The respondent Judge claimed that when the complainant filed her motion for the immediate transmittal of the record, she again confronted respondent Jose, who assured her that the records of the case had already been prepared for transmittal, and had already been delivered to respondent Gorospe. Respondent Jose further informed her that she had seen respondent Gorospe handing P20.00 to Carmelito Raymundo to cover his fare in going to the post office. The respondent Judge further alleged that respondent Jose showed her a copy of the "Table of Contents" which was prepared for the transmittal of the records. Respondent Jose also assured her that the posting of the records was done by registered mail under Registry Receipt No. 548.

The respondent Judge admitted that when she learned that a case for infidelity in the custody of documents had been filed against respondent Corsino, she had immediately directed her personnel to search for the missing records of Criminal Case No. 1130. Part of the missing records was found at about 11:00 a.m. of July 29, 2003, and the rest were found in one of the steel cabinets in the courtroom where the archived cases were stored. The respondent Judge then immediately ordered their transmittal to the CA. She also issued a Memorandum to respondent Jose requiring her to explain why she should not be administratively charged for not complying with the court's Order dated October 13, 2000, and for misleading the court into believing that the records of the said case had already been sent to the CA.

Respondent Domingo denied the charges in the complaint. She alleged that at the time the said decision was promulgated, the Officer-in - Charge (OIC) of the RTC of Tuguegarao, Branch 4, was Alfonso Gorospe, who had already retired from the service. She had not yet been designated as such OIC. She further pointed out that her duties as court stenographer do not include the custody and handling of court records, and that they are limited to taking stenographic notes during the trial of cases, transcribing them, typing orders, decisions and memoranda, as well as other correspondence as may be directed by the Clerk of Court and the Presiding Judge. She claimed that she issued the certification that the records of the subject case had been transmitted to the CA because respondent Jose, the clerk in charge of criminal cases, assured her that this was so. She maintained that her actuations were not motivated by ill will or bad faith.

For their part, respondents Santiago, Baquiran, Ancheta and Manio likewise denied the allegations in the complaint. As mere stenographers, their duties do not include the custody and safekeeping of court records. Respondent Manio further averred that as court interpreter, she does not participate in the custody and handling of court records.

Respondent Jose also denied the averments in the complaint. She admitted that as the clerk in charge of criminal cases, her duties include the preparation of records for transmittal to the CA in case of appeal. She narrated that she prepared the record of Criminal Case No. 1130 for transmittal to the CA and later delivered the same to then OIC Gorospe. She then saw Gorospe hand over P20.00 to Utility Worker Carmelito Raymundo for the latter's fare in going to the post office to mail the records of the case. Two or three days thereafter, she asked Raymundo for a copy of the transmittal letter, as well as the registry receipt. She was merely told that the number of the registry receipt was No. 548, but failed to give a copy of the transmittal letter. Respondent Jose finally averred that when she checked the said receipt, she discovered that it pertained to Criminal Case No. 1448 and not to Criminal Case No. 1130.

Respondent Process Server Nieves and Utility Worker Battung, denied the charges of the complainant. They averred that they were appointed to their respective positions on February 18, 2002 and October 15, 2003, long after the subject criminal case was decided by the trial court. They further alleged that their duties do not include the handling of court records.

Respondent Corsino also denied the charges in the complaint in his Answer with Motion to Dismiss dated February 3, 2004. He admitted that he is also the respondent in OCA IPI No. 03-1795-P and OMB-L-C-03-0557-E, both of which allege the same facts and circumstances. He averred that his duties do not include the custody of records which is handled by the trial court. He claimed that the complaint is a clear violation of the rule against forum shopping and should be dismissed outright.

In a Resolution7 dated September 13, 2004, the Court resolved to re-docket the instant administrative complaint against all the respondents as a regular administrative matter, and to refer the same to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Josefina Guevarra-Salonga, for investigation, report and recommendation.

After the hearing conducted on November 25, 2004, the Investigating Justice submitted her Report and Recommendation where she recommended the dismissal of the instant complaint. The Investigating Justice concluded that the respective explanations of the respondents were sufficient to exonerate them of the complainant's charges. According to the Investigating Justice, the negligence, if any, could be imputed to Carmelito Raymundo who already passed away, and then OIC Alfonso Gorospe, now retired.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

The Court finds that no bad faith can be attributed to the respondents, and agrees with the following findings and recommendations of the Investigating Justice:

In the case at bar, we find that respondent Judge has not been remiss and unmindful of her duties as a judge. The record shows that upon the petitioner's filing of an appeal from her conviction for the crime of Homicide, the Judge immediately issued an Order dated October 13, 2000 denying her motion to be released on bail pending appeal and ordered the transmittal of the entire records of the case. She likewise reminded criminal case-in-charge Josephine P. Jose to immediately forward the records of the case to the Court of Appeals and this was corroborated by a Joint Affidavit executed by her staff. Thereafter, Josephine P. Jose produced the letter of transmittal of the records and showed to her Registry Receipt No. 548 dated September 18, 2001. On the basis of [the] Registry Receipt, she issued an Order dated April 8, 2003 stating that the records were still with the Court of Appeals. Moreover, she earnestly endeavored to verify the transmittal of the records and likewise directed the staff to look for them and for this purpose, search all cabinets. Upon finding the records inside a cabinet, she ordered the same to be immediately transmitted to the Court of Appeals and issued a memorandum requiring Mrs. Jose to explain within 72 hours why the records have not been transmitted to the said Court earlier.

With regards to Mrs. Josephine P. Jose, criminal case [clerk]-in-charge, the record shows that she prepared the entire records of Criminal Case No. 1130 for transmittal and delivered the same to their Officer-In-Charge, Alfonso Gorospe who signed the transmittal letter. The latter directed Carmelito Raymundo, their Utility Aide, to mail the records of the case to the Court of Appeals and the amount of P20.00 was given for his fare going to the Post Office. Thereafter, Carmelito Raymundo informed her that the Registry Receipt No. evidencing the transmittal of the records was 548, but he failed to give her a copy of the said transmittal letter, hence she wrote the No. 548 on the first page of the file copy of the Table of Contents. She later discovered that Registry Receipt No. 548 referring to Criminal Case No. 1448 and not to Case No. 1130. According to her, she has worked in the Judiciary for almost thirty-three years and has always performed her duties with caution, vigilance and prudence.

With regard to respondents Elma C. Santiago, Altagracia Baquiran, Rafaela G. Ancheta and Leticia F. Domingo, the records show that they are mere court stenographers whose respective duties, among others, are to attend court hearings, take down stenographic notes and transcribe the same, and as such, they are not charged with the custody of court records. The same is true with Marites Manio who works as a court interpreter, Edgar Battung who works as a Utility Worker and Jonard Nieves who is a Process Server, all of whom were never assigned to be the custodians of the records of cases.

The sheriff, Maximiano Corsino, on the other hand, denied the charges filed against him by petitioner. He contended that the case filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman based on the same facts was already dismissed. As sheriff, his duties are to serve and execute all writs and processes of the court, among other things. He denied having received the mail which the postmaster certified to have been received by him since the signature appearing thereon is not his. He likewise contended that the letter dated July 10, 2002 shows that what was remanded to their court by the Court of Appeals was the copy of the Decision dated January 22, 2001, as well as the Entry of Judgment dated February 15, 2001.

The Court further notes that the employees seemingly responsible for the mishap are already retired from the service, and can no longer be held administratively liable for their omission. Thus, the Court resolves to consider the instant case closed and terminated.

On a final note, the Court reiterates that a judge's duties and responsibilities are not strictly confined to judicial functions. He is also an administrator who must organize his court with a view to prompt and convenient dispatch of its business.8 A judge is bound by duty to motivate his subordinates for the effective performance of the functions and duties of his office.9 In fact, the imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the court is to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice.10 Hence, any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice, which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary shall be condemned and cannot be countenanced.11

CONSIDERING THE FOREGOING, the charges against respondents Presiding Judge Lyliha L. Abella-Aquino, Sheriff Maximiano Corsino, Stenographers Leticia F. Domingo, Rafaela G. Ancheta, Elma C. Santiago and Altagracia Baquiran, Interpreter Marites R. Manio, Clerk III Josephine P. Jose, Process Server Jonard A. Nieves, and Utility Worker Edgar D. Battung are DISMISSED for lack of merit. The Court further resolves to consider the instant case CLOSED AND TERMINATED.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, p. 2.

2 Id. at 12.

3 Id. at 14-18.

4 Id. at 25-26.

5 Id.

6 Id. at 42-53.

7 Id. at 126.

8 Tudtud v. Coliflores, 411 SCRA 221 (2003).

9 Id. at 224.

10 Andal v. Tonga, 414 SCRA 524 (2003).

11 Madrid v. Quebral, 413 SCRA 1 (2003).

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