The long arm of the law caught up with the presiding judge of Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental who, even after he had retired, was sanctioned by the Supreme Court for gross inefficiency and gross ignorance of the law due to his failure to promptly decide cases.
In a per curiam resolution promulgated last September 1, the High Court forfeited the retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, of Judge Mario O. Trinidad as penalty for his offenses. He was also perpetually barred from re-employment in any public office. The Court can longer impose the extreme penalty of dismissal from service as Trinidad has compulsory retired last January 19.
The Court reminded all judges that the Court has adopted rules, circulars, and guidelines for them to follow in order to expedite the resolution of cases and such are intended to render fair, just and swift justice to give meaning to the very purpose of the Court’s existence as dispenser of justice. Hence, even with a judge’s retirement, it will not stop the Court from imposing the proper penalty to those found to be in discord with the Court’s policies.
The judicial audit team from the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) conducted a spot audit of the cases in Guihulngan City RTC, Branch 64, presided by Judge Trinidad and found, among others, that two of the five decided civil cases were already overdue as of the judicial audit in August 2019, and that 46 of the 49 cases submitted/deemed submitted for resolution have remained pending and unresolved beyond the reglementary period.
The Court gave weight on the findings of OCA which pointed out that Judge Trinidad failed to give any justifiable reason for the delay. It held that the facts are undisputed based on court records and that the irregularities speak for themselves and require no in-depth discussion.
The Court held that the Constitution expressly provides that all lower courts should decide or resolve cases or matters within three months from date of submission. It further held that Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct and Administrative Circular No. 13-87 similarly provide that judges should promptly dispose of the cases.
The Court said that delay in the disposition of cases is a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the judicial system. It further said that Judge Trinidad’s explanations cannot exculpate him from his administrative liability because the inordinate delay was not just in terms of days or months but in years.
On the ground of gross ignorance of the law, the Court found that Judge Trinidad violated issuances by OCA. Among others, he issued an order archiving a criminal case for the reason that the accused had jumped bail. Under OCA Circular No. 89-2004, a case may only be archived if the accused jumped bail before arraignment and the person cannot be arrested by the bondsman. In the said case, the accused was already arraigned prior to jumping bail, hence, the judge should have conducted trial in absentia, in accordance with Section 14(2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution.
The OCA audit team also reported Judge Trinidad failed to conduct pre-trial in cases involving annulment and nullity of marriages. A pre-trial is a mandatory state of the proceedings as explicitly directed under Section 2, rule 18 of the rules of Court and under Section 11 (1) of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages.
The Court would have meted Judge Trinidad the most severe penalty of dismissal, considering his previous administrative sanction, but cannot do so since he is already retired. In lieu of dismissal, the Court imposed the accessory penalties to dismissal from the service, i.e., forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from public office.
The copy of the decision will be uploaded to the SC website once available. ###