“A judge is not above the law. When a magistrate refuses to submit to judicial processes by becoming a fugitive from justice, he disrespects the law he is sworn to uphold and protect. By turning into a transgressor of the law, he brings disrepute to his office and impairs public confidence in the Judiciary.”
Thus held the Supreme Court as it dismissed Judge Jaime E. Contreras, Presiding Judge of Branch 25, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Naga City, Camarines Sur for grave misconduct. The respondent Judge is also facing criminal charges of three (3) counts of rape, one (1) count of attempted rape, and eight (8) counts of acts of lasciviousness and violation or R.A. 7610 before Branch 41, RTC of Daet, Camarines Norte. The RTC had already issued orders of arrest against Contreras, but he has evaded arrest for several years now.
The dismissal stemmed from the administrative complaint filed in 2014 before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) by the respondent judge’s purported victim of sexual molestation and rape.
The Court forfeited all benefits of Judge Contreras, except his accrued leave credits. He was also banned for employment in any public office. It also referred the case to the Office of the Bar Confidant for the purpose of initiating disbarment proceedings.
The complainant was allegedly first molested in 1994. The molestation subsequently got worse and became more frequent. In 2004, the respondent judge was said to have brought the victim to a motel and raped her. This supposedly happened several times. The respondent judge even took naked pictures of the victim using his cellular phone, and threatened that he would spread her naked photos if she disclosed his transgressions to anyone. Her naked photos eventually leaked, and in July 2014, the victim finally decided to file criminal and administrative charges against the respondent judge.
The Court gave full accordance to the OCA’s recommendation of imposing the penalty of dismissal for Judge Contreras who has been evading arrest.
The Court held that a judge who deliberately and continuously fails and refused to comply with lawful orders or resolutions is guilty of grave misconduct. By becoming a fugitive from justice and evading arrest, Judge Contreras has committed grave misconduct. Thus, it ruled that the appropriate penalty against the respondent judge was dismissal from service, which carries with it accessory penalties. The Court further noted that grave misconduct is punishable by the penalty of dismissal even if committed for the first time.
“We find that respondent’s refusal to follow lawful orders and evasion of arrest are glaring proofs of his disinterest to remain in the Judiciary,” held the Court En Banc in its decision.
The Court, however, refrained from making any pronouncements as regards the serious accusations of rape and sexual abuse since the criminal cases remain pending before the RTC.
The Court likewise noted that this was not the first time that Judge Contreras failed to act beyond reproach and was found guilty of an administrative infraction. In 2016, the Court found him guilty of dishonesty for failure to disclose in his personal data sheet (PDS) when he applied as judge, that he was charged and found guilty of simple misconduct by the Office of the Ombudsman.
“A judge embodies the law; he cannot be above it. Being a magistrate means comporting oneself in a manner consistent with the dignity of the judicial office and not committing any act that erodes public confidence in the Judiciary,” said the Court.
(A.M. No. RTJ-15-2437, December 9, 2020)