[A.M. No. P-07-2384. June 18, 2008.]
KENNETH HAO, complainant, vs. ABE C. ANDRES, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, Davao City, respondent.
It must be stressed that as court custodian, it was Andres' responsibility to ensure that the motor vehicles were safely kept and that the same were readily available upon order of the court or demand of the parties concerned.
Specifically, sheriffs, being ranking officers of the court and agents of the law, must discharge their duties with great care and diligence. In serving and implementing court writs, as well as processes and orders of the court, they cannot afford to err without affecting adversely the proper dispensation of justice. Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice and as agents of the law, high standards of performance are expected of them. 29 Hence, his failure to return the motor vehicles at the time when its return was still feasible constitutes another instance of neglect of duty.
Fifth, as found by the OCA, we agree that Andres also disregarded the provisions of Rule 141 30 of the Rules of Court with regard to payment of expenses.
Under Section 9, 31 Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, the procedure for the execution of writs and other processes are: First, the sheriff must make an estimate of the expenses to be incurred by him; Second, he must obtain court approval for such estimated expenses; Third, the approved estimated expenses shall be deposited by the interested party with the Clerk of Court and ex officio sheriff; Fourth, the Clerk of Court shall disburse the amount to the executing sheriff; and Fifth, the executing sheriff shall liquidate his expenses within the same period for rendering a return on the writ.
In this case, no estimate of sheriff's expenses was submitted to the court by Andres. Without approval of the court, he also allowed Silver to pay directly to the policemen the expenses for the safeguarding of the motor vehicles including their meals. 32 Obviously, this practice departed from the accepted procedure provided in the Rules of Court.
In view of the foregoing, there is no doubt that Andres failed to live up to the standards required of his position. The number of instances that Andres strayed from the regular course observed in the proper implementation of the orders of the court cannot be countenanced. Thus, taking into account the numerous times he was found negligent and careless of his duties coupled with his utter disregard of legal procedures, he cannot be considered guilty merely of simple negligence. His acts constitute gross negligence.
As we have previously ruled:
Gross negligence refers to negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to consequences in so far as other persons may be affected. It is the omission of that care which even inattentive and thoughtless men never fail to take on their own property.
Gross neglect, on the other hand, is such neglect from the gravity of the case, or the frequency of instances, becomes so serious in its character as to endanger or threaten the public welfare. The term does not necessarily include willful neglect or intentional official wrongdoing.
(To be continued)