Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on court mismanagement

To follow up my previous blog on mismanagement and poor leadership in Philippine courts, I am extensively quoting below the decision of the Philippine Supreme Court in “Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted at the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 55, Malabon City. A.M. No. 08-3-73-MeTC, July 31, 2009”. The Court found retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo, former Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MetTC) of Malabon City, Branch 55, guilty of simple misconduct and undue delay in rendering a decision. He was fined in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20, 000.00) in accordance with Section 11, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, to be deducted from the One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100, 000.00) the Court had previously ordered to be withheld from his retirement benefits.

During the judicial audit conducted by the Court, of the 23 cases submitted for decision, 22 cases, 19 of which were inherited cases, remained undecided despite the lapse of the reglementary period; 7 cases with pending incidents were still awaiting resolution; 1,258 cases were not acted upon for a considerable length of time; while no action had been taken by the court in 21 cases since their filing therein. Reconciliation of the audited records with the court records revealed that 175 criminal cases were not presented to the audit team for examination, while 270 criminal cases were not reported/reflected in the docket inventory for the years 2006 and 2007.

The Court must be praised, though, for its consistent efforts in correcting the behavior of the trial judges and in improving the management systems and procedures in the trial courts.

Needless to say, a mismanaged court defeats the spirit and meaning of substantive justice and equity.


DECISION

QUISUMBING, J.:

From July 12 to 19, 2007, the audit team of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) conducted a judicial audit and physical inventory of cases pending before Branch 55 of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Malabon City in light of the compulsory retirement of its presiding judge, the Honorable Judge Francisco S. Lindo, on July 24, 2007.

The OCA reported in its Memorandum dated March 17, 2008 that the sala of Judge Lindo has a total caseload of 2,052 cases, consisting of 1,970 criminal and 82 civil cases. x x x .

Of the 23 cases submitted for decision, 22 cases, 19 of which were inherited cases, remained undecided despite the lapse of the reglementary period; 7 cases with pending incidents were still awaiting resolution; 1,258 cases were not acted upon for a considerable length of time; while no action had been taken by the court in 21 cases since their filing therein.

Reconciliation of the audited records with the court records revealed that 175 criminal cases were not presented to the audit team for examination, while 270 criminal cases were not reported/reflected in the docket inventory for the years 2006 and 2007.

In a Resolution dated April 22, 2008, the Court, acting on the memorandum submitted by OCA, resolved, among others to:

1. DIRECT Hon. Francisco S. Lindo, former Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 55, Malabon City to EXPLAIN in writing within fifteen (15) days from notice why no administrative sanction shall be imposed on him for

1.1 failure to report to this Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, about the following nineteen (19) inherited cases which were allegedly discovered sometime in 2002 or to decide them considering that these cases were submitted for decision way back in the 80’s, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. 525-81 & 525-82, 54839, 634-84, 777-84, 909-84, 974-84, 1025-85, 1023-85, 2122-86, 2223-86, 2256-86 & 2249-87; and Civil Case Nos. 529-86, 621-86, 755-87, 767-87, 774-87 & 819-88;
1.2 failure to decide within the reglementary period the following three (3) cases which were submitted for his decision, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. 360-90 and 361-90; and Civil Case No. 1870-98;
1.3 failure to resolve within the reglementary period the following seven (7) cases with pending incident or matter for his resolution, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. 7305-98, 7818-98, JL00-577 & JL00-578; and Civil Case Nos. JL00-258, JL00-259 & JL00-272;
1.4 failure to act on the one thousand two hundred twenty-nine (1,229) criminal cases and twenty-nine (29) civil cases, as enumerated in Annex “A” of the audit report, despite the lapse of a considerable length of time;
1.5 failure to act on the following twenty-one (21) criminal cases which have not been set in court calendar despite the lapse of a considerable period of time from date of filing, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. JL00-5822 to JL00-5831, JL00-5963 to JL00-5967, JL00-5934, Jl00-7247, JL00-7248, JL00-7571, JL00-7572, JL00-7573; and
1.6 failure to reflect, in all the Monthly Report of Cases he filed with this Office, the nineteen (19) inherited cases submitted for decision as well as Criminal Case Nos. 360-91 and 361-91 submitted for his decision on October 17, 1994 and Civil Case No. 1870-98 submitted for his decision on August 10, 1999.

2. DIRECT Ms. Edrine T. Borgonia, Court Legal Researcher and Officer-in-Charge, MeTC, Branch 55, Malabon City to

1.1 EXPLAIN within fifteen (15) days from notice why no administrative sanction shall be imposed upon her for
1.1.1 failure to set in the court calendar the following twenty-one (21) criminal cases despite the lapse of considerable period of time, with further directive for her to immediately include them in the court calendar, to wit: Criminal Case Nos. JL00-5822 to JL00-5831, JL00-5963 to JL00-5967, JL00-5934, JL00-7247, JL00-7248, JL00-7571, JL00-7572, JL00-7573;

1.1.2 failure to present to the audit team for examination the following one hundred seventy-five (175) criminal cases x x x.

1.1.3 failure to include the following cases in the semestral docket inventory for the years 2006 and 2007 x x x.

1.2 SUBMIT within thirty (30) days from notice a written report, duly noted by the Acting Presiding Judge, on the status of the one hundred seventy-five (175) criminal cases enumerated in Item [2.1.1.2] above;
1.3 IMPLEMENT a systematic records management; and
1.4 FILE ON TIME the Monthly Report of Cases and the Semestral Docket Inventory of Cases following strictly the prescribed format therefor.

x x x x

In the same Resolution, this Court directed Judge Edward D. Pacis, the designated acting presiding judge in that court, to decide within 90 days from receipt of notice the 19 inherited cases of Judge Lindo and the 4 cases submitted for decision but were left undecided; to resolve the pending incidents in the 7 cases mentioned in paragraph 1.3 of the subject resolution within 90 days; and to act with dispatch on the 1,229 criminal cases and 29 civil cases which have not been acted upon for a considerable length of time.

In compliance with this Court’s Resolution of April 22, 2008, Judge Lindo and Court Legal Researcher and Officer-In-Charge Edrine Borgonia submitted their respective explanations.

In his Explanation dated July 1, 2008, Judge Lindo admitted that he inherited the 19 cases mentioned in this Court’s Resolution of April 22, 2008 from Branch 56 of the Malabon MeTC. However, he pointed out that even after a thorough inquiry from his court personnel, no one can say for sure when these cases were turned over to their branch; consequently, they were left undecided. He added that since these cases were not included in the monthly report, the same were not referred to him by the OCA. Hence, he does not know what action should be taken thereon. He also faults the absence of an updated docket inventory which could have helped him in scheduling his work on priority cases for resolution/decision.

As to the three other cases mentioned in Paragraph 1.2 of the subject Resolution, Judge Lindo presented a copy of the decisions rendered therein which show that said cases have been disposed of, belying the allegation that such cases have not yet been decided.

With regard to the 7 cases alluded to in Paragraph 1.3 of the subject Resolution, he stated that Criminal Case Nos. JL00-577, JL00-578, and 7305-98 were all dismissed. The first two cases were set for preliminary investigation upon motion of the accused, but subsequently dismissed upon the recommendation of the State Prosecutor. Criminal Case No. 7305-98 on the other hand, was dismissed on the ground of prescription of offense. As regards Civil Case Nos. JL00-258, JL00-259, and JL00-272, he clarified that such cases were not resolved by mere oversight. He explained that plaintiff’s failure to inform the court that the defendants therein had received a copy of the Motion to Render Summary Judgment filed by the former, prevented the court from acting upon the said cases. With regard to Criminal Case No. 7818-98, Judge Lindo reasoned that he was not able to decide the case because the accused has not presented any proof that he furnished the public and private prosecutors a copy of his motion for reconsideration. Also, the accused has not informed the court of the name of his new counsel of record.

As to Paragraph 1.4 of the subject Resolution, Judge Lindo claimed that appropriate actions were taken on all of the 1,258 cases mentioned in Annex “A” of the subject Resolution as can be seen in the status remark column in Annex “A” itself. To further bolster his contention that said cases were sufficiently acted upon, he recounted the action he had taken thereon, x x x.

Judge Lindo enumerated some 800 cases whose particulars he could not give. He explained that because said cases had been distributed to the acting presiding judge and two other assisting judges for proper disposition, it was no longer possible for him to verify the status of the said cases. Nevertheless, he contended that the audit report shows what action had been taken therein; hence, he need not elaborate.
As regards Paragraph 1.5 of the subject Resolution, Judge Lindo disclaimed that the cases referred to therein have neither been acted upon nor set in the court calendar. In fact, he stated, in Criminal Case Nos. JL00-5822 to JL00-5831, JL00-5963 to JL00-5967, JL00-7246 to JL00-7248 the accused therein were directed to appear before the court and file their respective counter-affidavits, except that they did not comply with the court’s order. The accused in Criminal Case Nos. JL00-5933 to JL00-5934, on the other hand, has a standing warrant of arrest, while in Criminal Case Nos. JL00-7571 to JL00-7573, a copy of the complaint was served on the accused.

As regards Paragraph 1.6 of the subject Resolution asking him to explain his failure to reflect the cases mentioned therein in all the Monthly Report of Cases he filed with the OCA, he proffered the same explanations he gave to discount the allegations in Paragraph 1.1 and 1.2 of the same Resolution.

For her part, Ms. Borgonia, in a Letter dated June 12, 2008, explained that the 21 cases adverted to in Paragraph 2.1.1.1 of the subject Resolution could not be included in the court calendar inasmuch as the last order issued by Judge Lindo in 19 of the said cases was for the accused to file their counter-affidavits, while the trial in Criminal Case Nos. JL00-5933 & JL00-5934 were suspended pending the arrest of the accused therein. According to her, she cannot at her own discretion calendar the said cases at once as she has to wait for the instruction of Judge Lindo as to what the court would deem appropriate or necessary for these cases under the given situation, that is, whether to set the case for hearing or issue warrants against the accused for their non-compliance with his earlier order. These notwithstanding, all these cases have been disposed of after clarificatory hearings were conducted by Judge Pacis.

In refutation of the allegations in Paragraph 2.1.1.2 of the subject Resolution, Ms. Borgonia attached to her letter photocopies of the cover pages and/or front pages of the cases mentioned therein, except for the criminal cases that will be mentioned hereafter. Said cover and front pages show that they were signed and dated by a member of the audit team on the day such cases were examined by the audit team – proof that the same were presented to the latter, contrary to what was claimed. She added that only Criminal Case Nos. JL00-9494 to 9499 and JL00-9938 were not presented because said cases have been transferred and raffled to Branch 56.
As for Criminal Case Nos. JL00-3220, JL00-9755, JL00-8862 to JL00-8867, JL00-9094, JL00-9238 to JL00-9241, JL00-9101, JL00-9090, JL00-9091, JL00-9081, JL00-8781, JL00-8776 and JL00-8488, Ms. Borgonia explained that these cases were already archived or otherwise disposed of either because a compromise agreement had been reached, the accused had been sentenced or the case had been dismissed. It is for these reasons that she no longer presented the cases to the audit team.

As to Criminal Case Nos. JL00-947 & 948, JL00-3058, JL00-3564, JL00-8558 to JL00-8584, JL00-9770, JL00-7882, JL00-6818, JL00-7074, and JL00-4088 to JL00-4090, Ms. Borgonia claimed that they were likewise presented to the audit team although the cover pages do not bear the signature of any member of the team. She claimed that the team only initialed the “cover of the first lower docket number of inter related bundled cases as they were jointly or simultaneously tried and for easy access of the records.”

Additionally, Ms. Borgonia admitted not presenting to the audit team Criminal Case Nos. JL00-6939 to JL00-6946, 6719-97, JL00-3221, JL00-7952, JL00-4211, 9641-00, 8457-99 to 8460-99, JL00-7947, JL00-1517, 9830-00, 8490-00, JL00-940, JL00-6631, 7354-98 and JL00-3785. However, she submits that such omission was merely through inadvertence “as these cases were included, attached or otherwise to the other bundled cases already signed or audited by the team.”

To belie the allegation in Paragraph 2.1.1.3 of the subject Resolution that she failed to include the cases mentioned therein in the semestral docket inventory for the years 2006 and 2007, Ms. Borgonia attached as Annexes to her letter the pertinent pages of the said inventory as proof that such cases were accounted for. As for the cases not included therein, she explained such omission in this wise:
She presumed that Case Nos. 525-81, 909-84, 2223-86, 361-91, 525-82, 974-84, 2256-86, 54839, 1023-85, 2249-87, 634-84, 1025-85, 253-90, 777-84, 2122-86 and 360-91 were included in the July to December 2007 inventory report inasmuch as they were included in the monthly report of July 2007. While Ms. Borgonia admitted failing to double check the final copy of the inventory report, she begged for indulgence for such lapse by reason of the many tasks that she has to attend to, being simultaneously the court’s Court Legal Researcher and Officer-in-Charge.

The cases that follow were archived in the year 1997, 2004, 2005 or 2007; for that reason, they were no longer included in the inventory report.

x x x.

Aside from the cases that were archived, those that were decided, dismissed, terminated, or suspended were likewise not included in the inventory. x x x.

As for Criminal Case Nos. 8102, 8242, 8243 and 6934, she submits that they do not exist in the docket of criminal cases as an official court record; hence, not reflected in the inventory report.

Finally, in compliance with Paragraph 2.1.2 of the subject Resolution, Ms. Borgonia submitted the status of the 175 criminal cases enumerated in Paragraph 2.1.1.2, duly noted by Judge Pacis, on June 27, 2008.

Through a Letter dated June 18, 2008, Judge Pacis informed this Court of his progress in regard to the cases enumerated in our Resolution of April 22, 2008 which were referred to him for proper disposition. He reported that out of the cases that were not acted upon since 1981, only five (5) are left for decision. Of the cases referred to in Paragraph 3.3.4 of the subject Resolution, 28 civil cases were already decided, while only 116 criminal cases remain pending for trial. For ready reference, he submitted together with his letter a copy of the monthly report bearing the actions he has taken on the cases mentioned in the said paragraph.

After a careful perusal of the explanations proffered by Judge Lindo and Ms. Borgonia, it is our considered view that both have been remiss in the dispensation of their duties and must be dealt with accordingly.

First off, Judge Lindo miserably failed to justify why the 19 inherited cases were left undecided considering that they were submitted for decision way back in the 80’s. Even if it were true that his staff was remiss in preparing the docket inventory resulting to his failure to decide these cases, he cannot hide behind his staff’s averred incompetence or negligence to escape responsibility for his own lapses. Judges and branch clerks of court should conduct personally a physical inventory of the pending cases in their courts and examine personally the records of each case at the time of their assumption to office, and every semester thereafter on 30 June and 31 December. Judges ought to know which cases are submitted for decision and they are expected to keep their own record of cases so that they may act on them promptly. Proper and efficient court management is the responsibility of the judge. He is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions. A judge cannot simply take refuge behind the inefficiency or mismanagement of his court personnel, for the latter are not the guardians of the former’s responsibility. Taking into account that these cases were discovered sometime in 2000, as admitted by Judge Lindo, he should have decided these cases with dispatch. If he had doubts as to what should be done to these cases, he should have asked the OCA for a directive as regards the same. Instead, he chose not to do anything about the matter, and for that, he must be held administratively liable.
A thorough review of the evidence presented by Judge Lindo reveals that he failed to disprove the allegations in Paragraphs 1.2 and 1.3 of our Resolution. His Explanation, no less, stated that Civil Case No. 1870-98 was submitted for decision on August 10, 1999, while a copy of the decision he rendered therein and which he furnished us shows that the same was decided only on July 18, 2007, clearly way beyond the 90-day reglementary period. While Judge Lindo tried to persuade us that Criminal Case Nos. 360-90 and 360-91 were already decided by a former judge of that court, suffice it to say that the evidence he presented failed to prove his contention, in that, what were presented were mere handwritten excerpts of the alleged decisions. We also do not find meritorious the reasons Judge Lindo gave for failing to resolve Civil Case Nos. JL00-258, JL00-253 and JL00-272 and Criminal Case No. 7818-98.

No less than the Constitution mandates that all cases or matters must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission to the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all lower courts. In implementing this constitutional mandate, Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct exhorts in the section on “Competence and Diligence” that judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness. Failure to decide cases within the reglementary period, without strong and justifiable reason, constitutes gross inefficiency warranting the imposition of an administrative sanction on the defaulting judge.

Furthermore, Judge Lindo wants to impress upon this Court that he has acted upon the cases referred to in our Resolution. His own Explanation, however, belies his contention. As can be gleaned from his compliance, the last action he has taken on a number of cases enumerated in Paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5 of our Resolution dates as far back as the late 90’s and the early 2000’s. It was only when Judge Pacis took over that such cases were dismissed, archived, or tried. A judge could not be said to have discharged his duties by the mere fact that he had given out one order in a certain case. What is asked of a judge is to continually act on all the cases pending before his court until their final disposition. He cannot just sit in complacency. The summary he gave as to the actions he had taken on the subject cases reveals his propensity for not monitoring the progress of the cases pending before him, thereby failing to act on them appropriately.

Delay in the disposition of cases not only deprives litigants of their right to speedy disposition of their cases, but also tarnishes the image of the judiciary. Procrastination among members of the judiciary in rendering decisions and taking appropriate actions on the cases before them not only causes great injustice to the parties involved but also invites suspicion of ulterior motives on the part of the judge, in addition to the fact that it erodes the faith and confidence of our people in the judiciary, lowers its standards and brings it into disrepute.

Judge Lindo also failed to justify why he did not include in his monthly report the cases we referred to in our Resolution. Administrative Circular No. 4-2004 specifically enjoins presiding judges to reflect in their monthly report of cases all cases assigned to them for hearing and those submitted to them for decision. Failure to do so warrants the withholding of their salaries, without prejudice to whatever administrative sanctions this Court may impose on them or criminal action which may be filed against them. As the master of his court, Judge Lindo must know the pending cases before his court and which ones are submitted for decision, and thereby reflect the same in his monthly report. It should be emphasized that the responsibility of making physical inventory of cases primarily rests on the presiding judge. Thus, he cannot use as an excuse for his non-compliance with the Administrative Circular the absence of an updated docket inventory in his court, or his lack of awareness of when these cases were turned over to his court. This stance all the more shows his incompetence in managing the affairs of his sala. The explanation Judge Lindo gave for not including Criminal Case Nos. 360-90 and 360-91 in his monthly inventory cannot also be given credence for the reason stated earlier.

All told, we find Judge Lindo liable for simple misconduct for his failure to act on and reflect in his monthly report the cases referred to in our Resolution. He is likewise found liable for gross inefficiency for his undue delay in deciding and/or resolving the cases adverted to therein.

Simple misconduct is a transgression of some established rule of action, an unlawful behavior, or negligence committed by a public officer. It is a less serious offense punishable by suspension from office without salary or 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. Undue delay in rendering a decision or order is likewise considered a less serious charge, punishable by the same penalty prescribed for simple misconduct.

As to Ms. Borgonia, the justification she gave for her failure to schedule in the court calendar the 21 cases we referred to does not persuade us. Branch clerks of court are administrative assistants of presiding judges. Their duty is to assist in the management of the calendar of the court and all other matters not involving the exercise of discretion or judgment of judges. Clerks of court must diligently supervise and manage court dockets and records. While clerks of court are not guardians of a judge’s responsibility, they are expected to assist in the speedy disposition of cases. As an administrative assistant, it is the duty of Ms. Borgonia, the acting clerk of court, to bring to the attention of the presiding judge cases that necessitate further action from the latter. Judges cannot be expected to memorize the movement of each and every case. It is for this reason that cases need to be calendared—for the judge to make the appropriate action that has to be done therein.

While we note that Ms. Borgonia painstakingly explained away her supposed negligence in preparing the case inventory and failure to present to the audit team cases before the subject court for examination, and submitted pertinent proof to give credence to her asseverations, we cannot brush aside the report of the audit team that the records in said court were in disarray, which shows lack of proper recordkeeping. Additionally, we gathered that as of audit date, the latest semestral docket inventory of Branch 55 was for the second semester of 2005. Its docket inventory for the years 2006 and 2007 was submitted only on February 8, 2008.
We take as opportune this time to remind Ms. Borgonia, the acting branch clerk of court, to be circumspect in her endeavors. Branch clerks of court must realize that their administrative functions are vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice. They are charged with the efficient recording, filing and management of court records, besides having administrative supervision over court personnel. They play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another. They must be assiduous in performing their official duties and in supervising and managing court dockets and records. On their shoulders, as much as those of judges, rest the responsibility of closely following development of cases, such that delay in the disposition of cases is kept to a minimum.

All the foregoing discussion shows Ms. Borgonia’s lack of diligence in her administrative functions. Thus, we find her administratively liable for simple neglect of duty.

Simple neglect of duty is defined as the failure to give proper attention to a task expected of an employee resulting from either carelessness or indifference. It is a less grave offense punishable by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense. However, we deem it appropriate to convert her penalty to the payment of a fine to enable her to continue discharging her duties.


WHEREFORE, retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo, former Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Malabon City, Branch 55, is found GUILTY of simple misconduct and undue delay in rendering a decision. He is FINED in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) in accordance with Section 11, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, to be deducted from the One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) we ordered withheld from his retirement benefits pursuant to our Resolution dated April 22, 2008. The Chief of the Financial Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to immediately release to retired Judge Francisco S. Lindo the remaining Eighty Thousand Pesos (P80,000.00).

Ms. Edrine T. Borgonia, Court Legal Researcher and Officer-in-Charge of the same court, is found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and is FINED in the amount equivalent to one (1) month salary. She is sternly WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely. Ms. Borgonia is likewise DIRECTED to immediately implement a systematic records management to aid the court in the proper monitoring of cases, and report to this Court what she has done in this regard, within thirty (30) days from notice.

SO ORDERED.


LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
Associate Justice
WE CONCUR:




CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
Associate Justice





MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
Associate Justice




TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice





DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

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