CARMEN EDANO VS. JUDGE FATIMA G. ASDALA, RTC BRANCH 87, QUEZON CITY (A.M. NO. RTJ-06-2007, 06 DECEMBER 2010) SUBJECT: DEADLINE OF JUDGES FOR RENDERING DECISIONS; DECISIONS NOT SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS;

 

DOCTRINES:

 

JUDGES MUST DECIDE ALL CASES WITHIN 3 MONTHS FROM DATE OF SUBMISSION

 

“. . . Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution requires judges to decide all cases within three (3) months from the date of submission. This Constitutional policy is reiterated in Rule 1.02, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which states that a judge should administer justice impartially and without delay; and Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the same Code provides that a judge shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

ACTS OF JUDGE PERTAINING TO HIS JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS ARE NOT SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION UNLESS THEY ARE TAINTED WITH FRAUD, DISHONESTY, CORRUPTION OR BAD FAITH.

“. . The respondent judge’s dismissal of the civil case for Support and her denial of the notice of appeal were done in the discharge of her judicial functions. Time and again, we have ruled that the acts of a judge, pertaining to his judicial functions, are not subject to disciplinary action, unless they are tainted with fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith.[1][10] As we explained in Jabon v. Usman:[2][11]

It must be stressed that an administrative complaint is not an appropriate remedy where judicial recourse is still available, such as a motion for reconsideration, an appeal, or a petition for certiorari, unless the assailed order or decision is tainted with fraud, malice, or dishonesty.  The remedy of the aggrieved party is to elevate the assailed decision or order to the higher court for review and correction.  Thus, disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against magistrates do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. An inquiry into their civil, criminal and/or administrative liability may be made only after the available remedies have been exhausted and decided with finality. In fine, 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.”

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D E C I S I O N

 

BRION, J.:

 

 

          We resolve in this Decision the administrative complaint for violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics, misconduct, rendering an erroneous decision, and rendering a decision beyond the 90-day reglementary period filed by Carmen Edaño (complainant) against Judge Fatima G. Asdala (respondent judge).

          In her letter-complaint,[3][1] the complainant alleged that she was the plaintiff in a civil case for Support with prayer for Support Pendente Lite (Civil Case No. Q-97-30576), entitled “Carlo Edaño and Jay-ar Edaño, represented by Carmen Edano v. George F. Butler,” pending before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 87, Quezon City, presided over by the respondent judge.

The complainant claimed that the respondent judge made it appear that Civil Case No. Q-97-30576 was decided on March 22, 2005, although the records show that she (respondent judge) still ruled on several motions relating to this case even after that date. The complainant further alleged that the respondent judge erred in denying her notice of appeal.

          The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) required the respondent judge to comment on the complaint. In her comment,[4][2] the respondent judge maintained that she had rendered the decision on March 22, 2005, although it was mailed on a later date. Even assuming that there was delay in rendering the decision, the delay was not deliberate. She added that the complainant was not prejudiced by the delay as she continuously received support pendente lite from the defendant.

          The respondent judge likewise explained that the orders she issued after March 22, 2005 did not touch on the merits of the case; they were orders directing the release of money deposited by the defendant as support pendente lite. According to her, she denied the complainant’s notice of appeal because Section 1, Rule 41 of the Revised Rules of Court provides that no appeal may be taken from an order dismissing an action without prejudice. Finally, she explained that her dismissal of the subject civil case and the denial of the notice of appeal are not the proper subjects of an administrative case as they are acts pertaining to her judicial functions.

          In her reply,[5][3] complainant maintained that the respondent judge violated the 90-day reglementary period for rendering decisions. She also revealed that the respondent judge made her sign a complaint against a Public Attorneys Office lawyer, to force the said lawyer to stay in her (respondent judge’s) sala.

          The OCA, in its Report[6][4] dated April 18, 2006, recommended that the respondent judge be fined in the amount of P10,000.00 for undue delay in rendering a decision, with a stern warning that a commission of similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.

THE COURT’S RULING

 

          We agree with the finding of the OCA that the respondent judge is guilty of undue delay in rendering a decision. Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution requires judges to decide all cases within three (3) months from the date of submission. This Constitutional policy is reiterated in Rule 1.02, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which states that a judge should administer justice impartially and without delay; and Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the same Code provides that a judge shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

In Office of the Court Administrator v. Garcia-Blanco,[7][5] the Court held that the 90-day period is mandatory. Failure to decide cases within the reglementary period constitutes a ground for administrative liability except when there are valid reasons for the delay. We explained the raison d’etre behind the rule on mandatory compliance with the constitutionally prescribed periods in Office of the Court Administrator v. Reyes:[8][6]

The honor and integrity of the judiciary is measured not only by the fairness and correctness of the decisions rendered, but also by the efficiency with which disputes are resolved. Thus, judges must perform their official duties with utmost diligence if public confidence in the judiciary is to be preserved. There is no excuse for mediocrity in the performance of judicial functions. The position of judge exacts nothing less than faithful observance of the law and the Constitution in the discharge of official duties. 

In the present case, Civil Case No. Q-97-30576 had been submitted for decision on December 9, 2004; the decision was, therefore, due on March 9, 2005.  The records do not show that the respondent judge asked for an extension to decide this case.  Thus, when she decided the case on March 22, 2005, the 90-day reglementary period had already lapsed. The respondent judge’s explanation that the complainant was not prejudiced by the delay is immaterial, as it is her constitutional duty to decide the case within three months from the date of submission.

Under Rule 140, Section 9(1) of the Rules of Court,[9][7] as amended by Administrative Matter No. 01-8-10-SC,[10][8] the respondent judge’s undue delay in rendering a decision is classified as a less serious offense. It is punishable by suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one month nor more than three months or a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.  The OCA’s recommendation of P10,000.00 fine is, therefore, in order.

We point out that the respondent judge, in Edaño v. Asdala,[11][9] had been dismissed from the service, with forfeiture of all salaries, benefits and leave credits to which she may be entitled. The Court, in its resolution of September 11, 2007, modified the dispositive portion of this decision and exempted from forfeiture her accrued leave credits. The Court, in another Resolution dated January 15, 2008, directed the Financial Management Office to release and pay the money value of the accrued leave credits of Judge Fatima G. Asdala, subject to the retention of P80,000.00. In light of these considerations, we thus deduct the P10,000.00 fine, imposed in this case, from the P80,000.00 which this Court withheld, pursuant to our  January 15, 2008 Resolution.

Other Charges

The Court agrees with the OCA that the complainant’s charges of misconduct and rendering an erroneous decision have no leg to stand on. The respondent judge’s dismissal of the civil case for Support and her denial of the notice of appeal were done in the discharge of her judicial functions. Time and again, we have ruled that the acts of a judge, pertaining to his judicial functions, are not subject to disciplinary action, unless they are tainted with fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith.[12][10] As we explained in Jabon v. Usman:[13][11]

It must be stressed that an administrative complaint is not an appropriate remedy where judicial recourse is still available, such as a motion for reconsideration, an appeal, or a petition for certiorari, unless the assailed order or decision is tainted with fraud, malice, or dishonesty.  The remedy of the aggrieved party is to elevate the assailed decision or order to the higher court for review and correction.  Thus, disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against magistrates do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. An inquiry into their civil, criminal and/or administrative liability may be made only after the available remedies have been exhausted and decided with finality. In fine, 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.

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, Judge Fatima G. Asdala is hereby found GUILTY of undue delay in rendering a decision. Accordingly, she is FINED  Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00), to be deducted from the Eighty Thousand Pesos (P80,000.00) which the Court withheld pursuant to its January 15, 2008 Resolution.

SO ORDERED.

ARTURO D. BRION

                                                                       Associate Justice  

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

 

 

 
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO

Associate Justice 

 

 

 

 


 


[1][10] Mariano v. Garfin, A.M. No. RTJ-06-2024, [formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 06-2410-RTJ], October 17, 2006, 504 SCRA 605, 614.

[2][11] A.M. No. RTJ-02-1713 [formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 01-1257-RTJ], October 25, 2005, 474 SCRA 36, 61.

[3][1]  Rollo, pp. 2-9.

[4][2]  Id. at 34-37.

[5][3]  Id. at 41-42.

[6][4]  Id. at 46-50.

[7][5]  A.M. No. RTJ-05-1941 [formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 05-6-373-RTC], April 25, 2006, 488 SCRA 109, 120.

[8][6]  A.M. No. RTJ-05-1892 [formerly A.M. No. 04-9-494-RTC], January 24, 2008, 542 SCRA 330, 338, citing Petallar v. Pullos, A.M. No. MTJ-03-1484, January 15, 2004, 419 SCRA 434.

[9][7]  SEC. 9. Less Serious Charges. Less Serious Charges include:

1.       Undue delay in rendering a decision or order, or in transmitting the records of a case[.]

[10][8]  Re: Proposed Amendment to Rule 140 of the Rules of Court.

[11][9]  A.M. No. RTJ-06-1974 [formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2226-RTJ], July 26, 2007, 528 SCRA 212.

[12][10] Mariano v. Garfin, A.M. No. RTJ-06-2024, [formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 06-2410-RTJ], October 17, 2006, 504 SCRA 605, 614.

[13][11] A.M. No. RTJ-02-1713 [formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 01-1257-RTJ], October 25, 2005, 474 SCRA 36, 61.