Oca V Lorenzo
A.M. No. RTJ-05-1911, December 23, 2008
Facts: The case pertained to two consolidated cases against the respondent judge involving the release on bail of three Filipinos caught sniffling shabu and five Chinese nationals arrested wile manufacturing shabu. The first case filed by OCA was the latterâ€™s reaction on a newspaper article. This stated that the respondent ordered the release of the Chinese nationals after posting a P700,000 bail and that the latter received a P12 million pay off for the speedy release of the said Chinese nationals. The article also mentioned that the judge inhibited himself from hearing the case and was planning to leave for US for medical treatment. OCA issued a corresponding resolution for the investigation ,report and recommendation as to the extent of the liability of the respondent judge. The latter, on the other hand, denied all the insinuations of the said article.
On the second case, the complainant Chief State Prosecutor charged the same respondent judge for Grave Misconduct, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment or Order, Gross Ignorance of the Law of Procedure, and Bias and Partiality. This is for granting the petition for bail of the three accused who were arrested while in the act of sniffing shabu at the time the raid was conducted. Complainant further averred that respondent granted bail without conducting a hearing or giving the prosecution reasonable time and chance to oppose the petition for bail-an act constituting gross and deliberate error, if not bad faith. Complainant asked that Judge Lorenzo be dismissed from the service.
The Court ordered consolidation of the two administrative cases.
Issue: Whether or not the conduct of the respondent-judge constitutes a violation of Canon 3 of the Code of the Judicial Conduct and, whether or not the said judge should be dismissed on the ground of Grave Misconduct, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment or Order, Gross Ignorance of the Law of Procedure, and Bias and Partiality.
Ruling: The court ruled that the respondent has violated Canon 3 of the Code of the Judicial Conduct for his professional lapses such as ordering a clerk to serve the subpoena; ordering a prosecutor to serve the orders of arrest/bench warrant; failing to check if the subpoenas were personally received by the police officers; pre-terminating the hearings for the petition for bail for the reason that counsel for the accused submitted the same for resolution; and denying the prosecution the opportunity to present its evidence necessary for its opposition to the petition for bail, despite two more hearings set for that purpose.
According to Canon 3 of such Code, â€œA judge should perform official duties honestly, and with impartiality and diligence,â€ particularly the following Rules under it:
Rule 3.01. A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence;
Rule 3.02. In every case, a judge shall endeavor diligently to ascertain the facts and the applicable law unswayed by partisan interest, public opinion or fear or criticism;
Rule 3.08. A judge should diligently discharge administrative responsibilities, maintain professional competence in court management; and
Rule 3.09. A judge should organize and supervise the court personnel to ensure prompt and efficient dispatch of business and require at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity.
As to the Complainantâ€™s plea that the respondent judge be dismissed from the service, the Court ruled that there was nothing substantial to support itself. Bare allegations of bias, partiality, gross ignorance of the law, and knowingly rendering an unjust order will not suffice to merit the dismissal of a judge.
As a matter of policy, the acts of a judge in the discharge of official functions are not subject to disciplinary action, without clear and convincing evidence of fraud, dishonesty, and/or corruption. To merit disciplinary action, the error or mistake must be gross or patent, malicious, deliberate, or in bad faith. In the absence of a showing to the contrary, defective or erroneous decisions or orders, if that be the case, are presumed to have been issued in good faith.
The Court further stated that Judges should not allow themselves to be harassed and prevented from performing their tasks by malicious and irresponsible media reports. Accordingly, administrative cases leveled against judges must always be examined with a discriminating eye, for their consequential effects are, by their nature, highly penal, such that judges stand to face the sanction of dismissal and/or disbarment. In sum, we find the published articles attributing acts of dishonesty and corruption to respondent judge to be without basis.