Saturday, November 5, 2011

Undue delay in rendering decision ; judge fined - A.M. No. MTJ-11-1793

A.M. No. MTJ-11-1793

"x x x.

After a careful examination of the records of this case, the Court agrees with the recommendation of the OCA.

Section 15, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution requires lower courts to decide or resolve cases or matters for decision or final resolution within three (3) months from date of submission. Complementary to this constitutional provision is Canon 1, Rule 1.02, of the Code of Judicial Conduct which instructs that a judge should administer justice impartially andwithout delay.

Similarly, Canon 3, Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to dispose of their business promptly and to decide cases within the required period. All cases or matters must be decided or resolved by all lower courts within a period of three (3) months from submission.

In fact, the Court, in Administrative Circular No. 3-99 dated January 15, 1999, reminded all judges to meticulously observe the periods prescribed by the Constitution for deciding cases because failure to comply with the said period transgresses the parties’ constitutional right to speedy disposition of their cases.[9] Thus, failure to decide cases within the ninety (90)-day reglementary period may warrant imposition of administrative sanctions on the erring judge.[10]

In this case, respondent Judge failed to render a decision within the reglementary period or to even ask for an extension of time.[11] “The Court, in its aim to dispense speedy justice, is not unmindful of circumstances that justify the delay in the disposition of the cases assigned to judges. It is precisely for this reason why the Court has been sympathetic to requests for extensions of time within which to decide cases and resolve matters and incidents related thereto. When a judge sees such circumstances before the reglementary period ends, all that is needed is to simply ask the Court, with the appropriate justification, for an extension of time within which to decide the case. Thus, a request for extension within which to render a decision filed beyond the 90-day reglementary period is obviously a subterfuge to both the constitutional edict and the Code of Judicial Conduct.”[12] Evidently, respondent Judge failed to do any of these options.

The Court cannot accept respondent Judge’s explanation either that he failed to render the decision because he required medical attention. The case had long been due for decision before he was even hospitalized in 2009. His admission that the case “may have escaped his mind”[13] only shows that respondent Judge failed to adopt an effective court management system to carefully track the cases for decision or resolution. “A judge is expected to keep his own record of cases and to note therein the status of each case so that they may be acted upon accordingly and promptly. He must adopt a system of record management and organize his docket in order to bolster the prompt and effective dispatch of business.”[14]

Sections 9 and 11, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC,[15] classifies undue delay in rendering a decision or order as a less serious charge with the following administrative sanctions: (a) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months; or (b) a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.

In this case, since respondent Judge has already retired from the service, the only alternative left is to impose a fine. Accordingly, the Court sets the fine to P11,000.00 taking into account the extent of delay it caused to the parties in said case. This fine shall be deducted from his retirement benefits.

Once again, the Court cautions judges to be prompt in the performance of their solemn duty as dispenser of justice, for any undue delay corrodes the people’s confidence in the judicial system.[16] Delay not only fortifies the belief of the people that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly, but provokes suspicion, however unfair, of ulterior motives on the part of the judge.[17]

WHEREFORE, retired Judge Filemon A. Tandinco, Jr. of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, 8th Judicial Region, Calbayog City, Western Samar is found GUILTY of undue delay in rendering a decision. Accordingly, he is ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of ELEVEN THOUSAND PESOS (P11,000.00) to be deducted from the retirement benefits due and payable to him.

Let a copy of this decision be forwarded to the Office of the Court Administrator so that the remaining benefits due respondent are promptly released, unless there exists another lawful cause for withholding the same.


x x x."