Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

DANIEL G. SEVILLA,

Complainant,

 

 

 

 

-versus -

 

 

 

 

JUDGE FRANCISCO S. LINDO, METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 55,

MALABON CITY,

Respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ-08-1714

[Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2016-

MTJ]

 

Present:

 

CARPIO MORALES, Chairperson,

BRION,

PERALTA,*

BERSAMIN, and

VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

Promulgated:

 

February 9, 2011

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

BERSAMIN, J.:

 

 

A trial judge who allows, or abets, or tolerates numerous unreasonable postponements of the trial, whether out of inefficiency or indolence, or out of bias towards a party, is administratively liable.

 

Antecedents

 

On July 4, 2007, Daniel G. Sevilla charged Hon. Francisco S. Lindo, then the Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), Branch 55, in Malabon City with delay in the disposition of Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260 (a prosecution for violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22 [BP 22] entitled People v. Nestor Leynes).

Sevilla alleged that he was the private complainant in Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260, which was filed on June 10, 2003, and raffled to Branch 55, presided by Judge Lindo; that he testified once in the case, but his testimony pertained only to his personal circumstances; that after he gave such partial testimony, Judge Lindo adjourned the session for lack of material time, and persistently reset the subsequent hearings for lack of material time; that Judge Lindos indifference was designed to force him to accept the offer of an amicable settlement made by the accused; and that Judge Lindos coercion was manifested in open court and in his chamber by telling him in the presence of the accused: Mr. Sevilla, ang hirap mo namang pakiusapan. Konting pera lang yan. Bahala ka maghintay sa wala.

 

Sevilla asserted that Judge Lindo thereby violated Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires that a judge should administer justice impartially and without delay; that Judge Lindo also violated Section 1, Rule 135 of the Rules of Court, which mandates that justice be impartially administered without unnecessary delay; that Judge Lindos unreasonable resetting of the hearings 12 times rendered inconsequential his right to the speedy disposition of his case; and that such resettings were made upon the instance of Judge Lindo, not upon motion of the parties.

 

In his comment dated July 26, 2007,[1] Judge Lindo refuted the charge, claiming that the postponements were upon valid grounds; that he set the initial trial on August 17, 2004, but due to Sevillas absence on said date, he ordered the provisional dismissal of the case upon motion of the Defense and with the express conformity of the accused and the public prosecutor; that in the interest of fairness, he set aside the provisional dismissal and reinstated the case upon motion of Sevilla; and that he set the initial trial on October 19, 2004, but the hearing was reset on December 7, 2004, and was further reset on February 1, 2005 due to his official leave of absence.

Judge Lindo cited the other dates of hearings and the corresponding reasons for their postponement, as follows:

 

a) March 4, 2005, April 26, 2005, October 4, 2005, November 29, 2005, and August 2, 2006 agreement of the parties;

 

b) May 20, 2005 absence of the public prosecutor;

 

c) August 12, 2005 docket inventory;

 

d) January 10, 2006 absence of the complainant;

 

e) March 14, 2006 lack of material time due to the continuation of the trial of two other criminal cases that preceded Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260;

 

f) May 16, 2005 and January 12, 2007 absence of the lawyer from the Public Attorneys Office (PAO); and

 

g) September 1, 2006 and November 24, 2006 lack of material time due to the continuation of the trial of two criminal cases that preceded Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260.

 

Sevilla submitted his reply on August 2, 2007,[2] clarifying that he did not agree with Judge Lindos orders of postponement but was only forced to comply with them, and that he affixed his signature to the minutes of hearings only as proof of his personal presence at the hearings, not as a ratification of what transpired.

 

On May 20, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) submitted its report,[3] which included the following evaluation and recommendation:

 

EVALUATION: While it may appear that the reasons or justifications proffered by respondent Judge seem acceptable, a close scrutiny of the results of the judicial audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on July 12 to 19, 2007 in the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 55, Malabon City, of which Respondent was the Presiding Judge until he was compulsorily retired from the service on July 24, 2007, revealed that quite a number of cases that have been submitted for decision remained unacted upon. Twenty-three cases, seventeen of which were undecided beyond the 90-day day reglementary period, seven cases with pending incident/motion submitted for resolution which have been unresolved, 6 of which beyond the reglementary period. There were twenty-one cases with no action taken since their filing in court.

 

The judicial audit also revealed the following findings:

 

(1)   there was no proper recordkeeping;

(2)   they had no updated inventory of cases;

(3)   there were twenty-one (21) inherited cases inside the chambers of Judge Lindo which were submitted for decision way back in the 80s. There were not reflected in the docket inventories submitted to OCA but these were reportedly just found in 2000 while the branch staff were relocating to another place following a fire that gutted their courthouse in July 2005 and were not properly turned over to him;

(4)   case folders of one hundred seventy-five (175) criminal cases were not presented to the audit team for examination;

(5)   two hundred seventy (270) criminal cases were not reported/reflected in the docket inventory that was subsequently updated up to 2007;

 

If the telling results of the judicial audit were not an irrefragably clear manifestation of inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the courts branch, more particularly its presiding judge, how could the herein respondent Judge convincingly argue that there was indeed no delay in the disposition of the case in respect of Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260. This Office, after a circumspect evaluation of the records at hand, together with the report on the judicial audit conducted at the MeTC, Branch 55, Malabon City, cannot help finding for the complainant and deems it reasonable to mete upon the respondent Judge a fine of TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P21,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

 

RECOMMENDATION: Respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Honorable Court is our recommendation that the instant complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter and respondent Judge be found GUILTY of Delay in the Disposition of Cases tantamount to Inefficiency and Incompetence in the Performance of Official Duties and be meted a fine of P21,000.00 to be deducted from the retirement benefits of the herein respondent Judge who was compulsorily retired from the service effective July 24, 2007.

 

On August 4, 2008, the Court noted the complaint, comment, and reply, and re-docketed the case as a regular administrative matter.[4]

 

 

On October 22, 2008, Judge Lindos rejoinder was noted.[5]

 

Thereafter, Judge Lindo moved for the early resolution of the case and for the release of his retirement benefits.[6] The Court noted his motion on January 12, 2009. [7]

 

On February 17, 2009, Judge Lindo filed an ex parte manifestation,[8] stating that he was involved in A.M. No. 08-3-73-MeTC entitled Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted at the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 55, Malabon City, another administrative case; that the Court, in the resolution dated April 22, 2008, ordered the release of his retirement benefits subject to the retention of P100,000.00 and to clearance requirements; and that the OCAs Docket Division refused to issue a clearance due to the pendency of this case; and that the P100,000.00 retention be considered as sufficient for both A.M. No. 08-3-73-METC and this case.

 

As the OCAs report stated, Judge Lindo mandatorily retired from the service on July 24, 2007.

 

On June 17, 2009, the Court ordered the release of Judge Lindos retirement benefits subject to the P100,000.00 retention.[9]

 

On July 31, 2009, the Court promulgated a decision in A.M. No. 08-3-73-MeTC,[10] disposing:

 

WHEREFORE, retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo, former Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Malabon City, Branch 55, is found GUILTY of simple misconduct and undue delay in rendering a decision. He is FINED in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) in accordance with Section 11, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, to be deducted from the One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000,00.) we ordered withheld from his retirement benefits pursuant to our Resolution dated April 22, 2008. The Chief of the Financial Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to immediately release to retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo the remaining Eighty Thousand Pesos (P80,000.00).

 

 

By resolution dated July 19, 2010,[11] this case was transferred to the Third Division for resolution.

 

Issue

 

The only issue is whether or not retired Judge Lindo was administratively liable for the numerous postponements in Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260.

 

Ruling

 

We agree with and adopt the report and recommendation of the OCA that Judge Lindo be held liable for delay in the disposition of his cases that was tantamount to inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of his official duties, and that he be meted a fine of P21,000.00 to be deducted from his retirement benefits due to his compulsory retirement from the Judiciary effective July 24, 2007. We point out that the findings of the OCA were based on the records of Judge Lindos Branch that the OCA subjected to a judicial audit in anticipation of his mandatory retirement.

 

Although the postponement of a hearing in a civil or criminal case may at times be unavoidable, the Court disallows undue or unnecessary postponements of court hearings, simply because they cause unreasonable delays in the administration of justice and, thus, undermine the peoples faith in the Judiciary,[12] aside from aggravating the financial and emotional burdens of the litigants. For this reason, the Court has enjoined that postponements and resettings should be allowed only upon meritorious grounds,[13] and has consistently reminded all trial judges to adopt a firm policy against improvident postponements.[14]

 

The strict judicial policy on postponements applies with more force and greater reason to prosecutions involving violations of BP 22, whose prompt resolution has been ensured by their being now covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure. The Court has pronounced that the Rule on Summary Procedure 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.[15]

 

Yet, Judge Lindo postponed five hearings for lack of material time without bothering to state the specific causes why his court lacked material time. He also reset four hearings supposedly upon the agreement of the parties, which the complainant credibly denied because that was prejudicial to his interest. He even cancelled the hearing of May 25, 2007 on the ground that he had to file on May 28, 2007 his application for compulsory retirement and leave of absence until July 24, 2007, and set the next hearing on August 17, 2007, when he could have set the hearing sooner either on May 26 or May 27 in view of his impending long period of absence. Considering that we cannot discern any rationality for his actions in the handling of Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260, a simple BP 22 case involving only P2,000.00, we can only adjudge such actuations as smacking either of indolence and utter inefficiency, or of bias, if not hostility, towards Sevilla, or both.

 

Judge Lindo cited the absence of the public prosecutor in one hearing and of the PAO lawyer in two hearings as justifications for the cancellation of the hearings. Such excuses for delay were not credible, however, for he could have summoned a relief prosecutor and a relief PAO attorney, or made arrangements for their attendance pursuant to the Courts Circular 1-89 (dated January 19, 1989) to avoid unnecessary postponements. Indeed, Circular 1-89 relevantly provided:

 

2. The Presiding Judge shall make arrangements with the prosecutor and the CLAO attorney so that a relief prosecutor and CLAO attorney are always available in case the regular prosecutor and CLAO attorney are absent; [16]

 

As can be seen, Judge Lindo made or allowed too many unreasonable postponements that inevitably delayed the proceedings and prevented the prompt disposition of Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260 out of manifest bias in favor of the accused, to the prejudice of Sevilla as the complainant in Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260. Thus, he flagrantly violated the letter and spirit both of Rule 1.02 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which enjoined all judges to administer justice impartially and without delay; and of Canon 6 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, which required him as a trial judge to be prompt in disposing of all matters submitted to him, remembering that justice delayed is often justice denied.

 

That his conduct proceeded from his bias towards the accused rendered his acts and omissions as gross misconduct. It is settled that the misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or disregard of long-standing rules, which must be established by substantial evidence; otherwise, the misconduct is only simple.[17]

 

Gross misconduct consisting in violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct is a serious charge under Section 8 of Rule 140, Rules of Court, to wit:

 

Section 8. Serious charges. Serious charges include:

xxx

3. Gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct;

xxx

 

and is punished under Section 11 of Rule 140, Rules of Court, thuswise:

 

Section 11. Sanctions. A. If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

 

1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits;

 

2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

 

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00

xxx

 

With Judge Lindo having earlier retired, only the third sanction of fine can be a practical sanction. In Hernandez v. De Guzman,[18] the Court imposed a fine of P5,000.00 on the respondent judge for allowing frequent and groundless postponements of the hearings in a criminal case. Similarly, in Arquero v. Mendoza,[19] the Court meted a fine of P5,000.00 on the respondent judge for allowing unreasonable delay in the proceedings of prosecutions for a violation of BP 22. However, the recommendation of the OCA for a fine in the amount of P21,000.00, to be deducted from his retirement benefits, is fully warranted, considering that Judge Lindo was previously fined for undue delay in rendering a decision in A.M. No. 08-3-73-METC.[20]

WHEREFORE, we find and declare respondent retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo guilty of grave misconduct, and, accordingly, punish him with a fine of P21,000.00, to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

 

The incumbent Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 55, in Malabon City is directed to proceed with the trial of Criminal Case No. J-L00-4260 with dispatch, and to decide it within the required period if the case has not yet been resolved.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice



* In lieu of Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno who is on leave per Office Order No. 944 dated February 9, 2011.

[1] Rollo, pp. 13-22.

[2] Id., pp. 78-83.

[3] Id., pp. 1-4.

[4] Id., pp. 85-86.

[5] Id., pp. 88-91.

[6] Id., pp. 101-103.

[7] Id., p. 104.

[8] Id., pp. 105-112.

[9] Id., p. 113.

[10] Penned by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing (retired), reported in 594 SCRA 492.

[11] Rollo, p. 114.

[12] Sevilla v. Quintin, A.M. No. MTJ-05-1603, October 25, 2005, 474 SCRA 10, 17-18.

[13] Producers Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125468, October 9, 2000, 342 SCRA 327, 334.

[14] Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the RTC of Kidapawan, Brs. 17 and 23, Kabacan, Brs. 16 & 17, North Cotobato, AM No. 96-5-169-RTC, May 9, 2003, 403 SCRA 130, 133; Gallego v. Doronila, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1278, June 26, 2000, 334 SCRA 339,345; Hernandez v. De Guzman, A.M. No. RTJ-93-1064, January 22, 1996, 252 SCRA 64, 67.

[15] Bernaldez v. Avelino, A.M.No. MTJ-07-1672, July 9, 2007, 527 SCRA 11, 20; Gallego v. Doronila, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1278, June 26, 2000, 334 SCRA 339,345.

[16] See also Matias v. Plan, A.M. No. MTJ-98-1159, August 3, 1998, 293 SCRA 532, 537.

[17] Civil Service Commission v. Ledesma, G.R. No. 154521, September 30, 2005, 471 SCRA 589, 603.

[18] A.M. No. RTJ-93-1064, January 22, 1996, 252 SCRA 64, 67.

[19] A.M. No. MTJ-99-1209, September 30, 1999, 315 SCRA 503, 507.

[20] Supra, note 10.