Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Abusive, scandalous, unprofessional judge

In the recent case of PROSECUTOR ROMANA R. REYES vs. JUDGE JULIA A. REYES, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 69, Pasig City, A.M. No. MTJ-06-1623 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-1635-MTJ], September 18, 2009 (per curiam; with companion cases), the Philippine Supreme Court DISMISSED Judge Julia A. Reyes, Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 69, Pasig City, 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.

The case details some of the worst and scandalous judicial behaviors I have ever known. I praise the Supreme Court for having acted with wisdom in the said case.

Let me digest the case for legal research purposes of the visitors of this blog.

Five administrative cases against Judge Julia A. Reyes (Judge Reyes), Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Pasig City, Branch 69 and one administrative case which Judge Reyes filed against her Branch Clerk of Court Timoteo Migriño were consolidated and referred to Justice Romulo S. Quimbo, consultant of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), for investigation, report and recommendation, by this Court’s Resolutions of September 28, 2005 and December 12, 2007. Earlier, the Court had preventively suspended Judge Reyes “effective immediately and until further orders,” by Resolution of December 14, 2004 in A.M. No. 04-12-335-MeTC, “Re: Problem Besetting MeTC, Branch 69, Pasig City.”

Parenthetically, according to the Court, its records showed that Judge Reyes’ whereabouts remained unknown. She was issued an Authority to Travel to the United States for the period from November 16 to 30, 2004. She appeared to have left the country in December 2004 but there was no record showing that she sought the Court’s permission therefor or filed any leave of absence for December 2004. From an August 17, 2005 Certification from the Bureau of Immigration, the only entry in its database relative to the travel of Judge Reyes was her departure to an unknown destination through Korean Air Flight No. KE622 on December 28, 2004. Due to her absence, the Court declared Judge Reyes as having waived her right to answer or comment on the allegations against her and to adduce evidence.

By Consolidated Report of June 27, 2004, Retired Justice Romulo S. Quimbo evaluated the first five administrative cases. Justice Quimbo thereupon recommended that Judge Reyes be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all her retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

Acting on the recommendation of Justice Quimbo, the Supreme Court held that Judge Julia Reyes should indeed be dismissed from the service. It stated that the administration of justice is a lofty function and is no less sacred than a religious mission itself. Those who are called upon to render service in it must follow that norm of conduct compatible only with public faith and trust in their impartiality, sense of responsibility, exercising the same devotion to duty and unction done by a priest in the performance of the most sacred ceremonies of a religious liturgy.

Reproduced below are the salient parts of the decision of the Court:

1. Thus, the carelessness and lack of circumspection on respondent Judge’s part, to say the least, in peremptorily ordering the arrest and detention of complainant, warrant the imposition of a penalty on respondent Judge as a corrective measure, so that she and others may be properly warned about carelessness in the application of the proper law and undue severity in ordering the detention of complainant immediately and depriving him of the opportunity to seek recourse from higher courts against the summary penalty of imprisonment imposed by respondent Judge.

2. It is also well-settled that the power to declare a person in contempt is inherent in all courts so as to preserve order in judicial proceedings and to uphold the administration of justice. Judges, however, are enjoined to exercise such power judiciously and sparingly, with utmost restraint, and with the end view of utilizing the same for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, and not for retaliation or vindication. The salutary rule is that the power to punish for contempt for purposes that are impersonal, because that power is intended as a safeguard not for the judges as persons but for the functions that they exercise. Only occasionally should the court invoke the inherent power in order to retain that respect without which the administration of justice must falter or fail.

3. Being a dispenser of justice, Judge Reyes, a lady judge at that, should have demonstrated finesse in her choice of words. In this case, the words used by her was hardly the kind of circumspect language expected of a magistrate. The use of vulgar and curt language does not befit the person of a judge who is viewed by the public as a person of wisdom and scruples. Remarks such as “Ano kaya kung mag-hearing ako ng hubo’t hubad tapos naka-robe lang, pwede kaya?”; “Hayaan mo, Farah, pag natikman ko na siya, ipapasa ko sa iyo, ha ha ha!”; and “Alam mo na ang dami intriga dito; nireport ba naman na nakatira ako dito, ano kaya masama dun? Alam ko staff ko rin nagsumbong eh, PUTANG INA NILA, PUTANG INA TALAGA NILA!” have no place in the judiciary. Those who don the judicial robe must observe judicial decorum which requires magistrates to be at all times temperate in their language, refraining from inflammatory or excessive rhetoric or from resorting to the language of vilification.

4. Judge Reyes failed to heed this injunction, however. Her inability to control her emotions her act of walking out of the courtroom during hearings, and her shouting invectives at her staff and lawyers indicate her unfitness to sit on the bench. They betray her failure to exercise judicial temperament at all times, and maintain composure and equanimity. Judge Reyes’ questioned actions reflect her lack of patience, an essential part of dispensing justice; and of courtesy, a mark of culture and good breeding. Her demonstrated belligerence and lack of self-restraint and civility have no place in the government service.

5. Respecting Judge Reyes’ frequent nocturnal “gimmicks,” suffice it to state that her presence in the above-mentioned places impairs the respect due her, which in turn necessarily affects the image of the judiciary. A judge is a visible representation of the judiciary and, more often than not, the public cannot separate the judge from the judiciary. Moreover, her act of bringing some of her staff to her weekday “gimmicks,” that causes them to be absent or late for work disrupts the speedy administration of service.

6. As for Judge Reyes’ act of borrowing money from her staff, the same constitutes conduct unbecoming a judge. While there is nothing wrong per se with borrowing money, it must be borne in mind that she exerted moral ascendancy over her staff, who may not have had the means but may have been forced to find a way in order not to displease her.

7. Judge Reyes’ comments like “Armie, ang hina mo naman sumingil sa ex-parte, buti pa si Leah. Dapat pag tinanong ka kung magkano, sabihin mo at least P2,000.00” and “Sino pa ba ibang pwedeng pagkakitaan dito? O ikaw Oswald, sheriff” smack of commercialism. This is not expected of a judge, knowing that the aim of the judiciary is to deliver speedy and inexpensive justice.

8. Respecting Judge Reyes’ failure to put into writing her judgment, she having merely required the accused to read it from the computer screen in camera without the presence of counsel, she violated the Constitution. She could have simply printed and signed the decision. Offering to a party’s counsel a diskette containing the decision when such counsel demands a written copy thereof is unheard of in the judiciary. A verbal judgment is, in contemplation of law, in esse, ineffective. If Judge Reyes was not yet prepared to promulgate the decision as it was not yet printed, she could have called the case later and have it printed first. A party should not be left in the dark on what issues to raise before the appellate court.