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Bias partiality and grave abuse of authority

First Posted 08:01:00 11/22/2010

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A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728


July 21, 2010

Factual Background?

Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity.

Thus, in the case of Wingarts v. Mejia, this Court ruled:

A judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence and should administer justice impartially and without delay. He should be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence, dispose of the court?s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

This reminder applies even more to lower court judges like herein respondent because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with litigants. A review of past decisions shows a wide range of penalty for cases of similar nature. These include reprimand, fine, suspension, and even dismissal. In assessing the proper penalty against respondent Judge, her deliberate omission to heed the Court?s directive to answer or to comment on the complaints against her may likewise be factored in.

As a matter of public policy, not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of his official duties renders him liable.In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity do not always constitute misconduct although said acts may be erroneous. It is true that a judge may not be disciplined for error of judgment absent proof that such error was made with a conscious and deliberate intent to cause an injustice. This does not mean, however, that a judge need not observe propriety, discreetness and due care in the performance of his official functions. Indeed, all members of the Bench are enjoined to behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

We now delve on the matter of penalties.? Judge Julia Reyes?s disregard of the directive of this Court as embodied in its Resolution of June 14, 2005, warrants disciplinary sanction. Her conduct in the premises constitutes less serious charges under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC on September 11, 2001, for which a judge may be suspended from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months, or fined in the amount of more than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00), depending upon the circumstances in each case. Moreover, the OCA correctly found respondent Judge guilty of manifest bias, partiality, as well as grave abuse of authority, and recommended that respondent Judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits.?

However, during the pendency of this case, respondent Judge was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government including government-owned or -controlled corporations, in the Court?s per curiam Decision dated September 18, 2009 on the consolidated administrative cases, A.M. Nos. MTJ-06-1623, MTJ-06-1624, MTJ-06-1625, MTJ-06-1627, MTJ-06-1638, and P-09-2693. Unfortunately for respondent Judge, this does not render the instant case moot. Respondent Judge must not be allowed to evade administrative liability by her previous dismissal from the service.

Thus, in view of respondent Judge?s previous separation from the service, this Court finds it proper to impose in the present case a fine of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) to be deducted from her accrued leave credits.

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