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535 Phil. 729


[ A.M. NO. RTJ-06-1997 (FORMERLY OCA I.P.I. NO. 05-2263-RTJ), October 23, 2006 ]




On May 3, 2005, complainant Atty. Jesus R. De Vega filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) a letter-complaint[1] charging respondent Judge Fatima G. Asdala, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 87, with gross negligence and inexcusable inefficiency, for issuing an erroneous order in Civil Case No. Q-03-50263 and for delay in the disposition of the case.

Complainant alleged that on July 16, 2004, respondent judge issued an Order dismissing his appeal from the decision of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Quezon City, Branch 31, in Civil Case No. Q-01-43445.  Subsequently, on March 2, 2005, respondent judge issued another Order, which reads in part:
Considering that the Order of this Court dated July 16, 2004 has become final and executory, let the whole records of this case be remanded to the court a quo for appropriate action.

Complainant filed omnibus motions for reconsideration of the March 2, 2005 Order and for explanation for its issuance.  He alleged that the Order was misleading and false since the case had not yet attained finality.  Complainant added that he had timely filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals on August 9, 2004 assailing respondent judge's July 16, 2004 Order and furnished respondent judge a copy thereof.  In fact, the Court of Appeals granted the petition on April 11, 2005.

Complainant alleged that respondent judge did not immediately rectify the erroneous order nor discipline the erring court personnel who prepared it.  This only showed, according to complainant, that respondent judge was incompetent in supervising her court personnel.  Finally, complainant alleged that respondent judge committed serious delay in the disposition of the cases since it took respondent judge eight months to decide his case.

Complainant prayed that respondent judge be held liable for gross negligence and inexcusable inefficiency in the performance of her duties as RTC judge.

In her Comment dated July 11, 2005, Judge Fatima G. Asdala vehemently denied the charges against her and averred that the instant complaint was malicious and aimed only to harass her.  Acting on the omnibus motions, respondent found that the court was indeed furnished with a copy of the petition for review of the July 16, 2004 Order, but the receiving clerk did not give it to the acting clerk of court who was primarily responsible for notifying the respondent judge.  Instead, it was given to Rowena Agulo who was in charge of civil cases, who failed to attach it to the records of the case.  She maintained that she should not be blamed for the court personnel's negligence.  She said that despite the adoption of a case flow management system, her staff was still negligent and had occasionally misplaced pleadings and files.  Respondent judge contended that had a copy of the petition for review been attached to the records, she would not have issued the March 2, 2005 Order.  To rectify the same, respondent issued an Order dated June 22, 2005 recalling and setting aside the March 2, 2005 Order and directed Rowena Agulo to explain her negligence.

Respondent judge maintained that complainant should have resorted to judicial remedies rather than an administrative complaint.  Besides, the March 2, 2005 Order did not prejudice complainant Respondent judge asserted that the instant complaint was a mere afterthought, because if there was indeed a delay in rendering judgment, complainant should have filed his complaint even before the Court of Appeals ruled in his favor.

Respondent countered that complainant should be disbarred for instituting such frivolous complaint, using impolite words and for displaying lack of candor and fairness in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In the agenda report dated April 18, 2006, Senior Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño of the OCA submitted an evaluation of the case.  The OCA did not find sufficient grounds to hold respondent liable for gross inefficiency (1) in issuing an order declaring the judgment in Civil Case No. Q-03-50263 final and executory while there was a pending petition for its review before the Court of Appeals; and (2) for lack of close and effective disciplinary supervision and control over her staff.  Likewise, the OCA found that the records did not show that there was delay in the resolution of the case pursuant to Section 7(c), Rule 40 of the Revised Rules of Court.[3]

Nonetheless, the OCA recommended that respondent be reprimanded for issuing an erroneous order and be warned that repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

On the other hand, the OCA dismissed the respondent judge's countercharges of violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility against complainant.

We agree with the OCA as to its findings but not with its recommended penalty.

Complainant faults respondent judge for (1) issuing an erroneous order; (2) lack of close and effective disciplinary supervision and control over her court personnel; and (3) apparent serious undue delay in the disposition of Civil Case No. Q-03-50263.

In De Guzman v. Pamintuan,[4] we held that an administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy for every irregular or erroneous order or decision issued by a judge where a judicial remedy is available, such as a motion for reconsideration, an appeal or a petition for certiorari.  Disciplinary proceedings against a judge are not complementary or suppletory to, nor a substitute for these judicial remedies whether ordinary or extraordinary.  For, obviously, if subsequent developments prove the judge's challenged act to be correct, there would be no occasion to proceed against him at all.  Besides, to hold a judge administratively accountable for every erroneous ruling or decision rendered, assuming he has erred, would be nothing short of harassment and would make his position doubly unbearable.

Likewise, judges cannot be disciplined for every erroneous order or decision rendered in the absence of a clear showing of ill motive, malice or bad faith.[5]  Otherwise, a judicial office would be untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the administration of justice can be infallible.[6]

In this case, complainant already filed omnibus motions for reconsideration and explanation of the March 2, 2005 Order; thus, he was precluded from filing an administrative complaint against respondent judge.

Also, we agree with the OCA that respondent judge was not remiss in her administrative responsibilities so as to render her liable for gross inefficiency.  Rule 3.08 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge should diligently discharge administrative responsibilities, maintain professional competence in court management, and facilitate the performance of the administrative functions of other judges and court personnel.  The OCA found that respondent judge exerted reasonable efforts to implement an efficient case flow management, and for the court personnel to strive for excellence in public service.  The OCA noted that respondent judge had previously filed an administrative case against a utility worker for gross inefficiency.  In the present case, respondent judge did not fail (a) to rectify the error, and (b) discipline her erring staff.

Inefficiency implies negligence, incompetence, ignorance and carelessness.  In this case, we find that respondent judge observed diligence and care to address the irregularity that led to an erroneous order.

We likewise sustain the findings of the OCA that there was no delay in the resolution of Civil Case No. Q-03-50263.  Records do not show when the case was submitted for decision. Complainant's premise that the case was decided after eight months from filing of the appeal on October 13, 2003 finds no support in the Rules of Court.  Under the Rules, the reckoning date is upon the filing of the memorandum of the appellee, or the expiration of the period to do so, and not upon the filing of the appeal.

On the other hand, we agree with the OCA that the countercharges against complainant should be dismissed.  However, we find it appropriate to enjoin complainants and members of the bar who file administrative complaints against judges of inferior courts that they should do so after proper circumspection and without use of disrespectful language and offensive personalities, so as not to unduly burden the Court in the discharge of its function of administrative supervision over inferior judges and court personnel.[7]

WHEREFORE, the administrative complaint against respondent Judge Fatima G. Asdala is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.  The countercharges against complainant are also dismissed.


Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Tinga, and Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 1-4.

[2] Id. at 5.

[3] SEC. 7.  Procedure in the Regional Trial Court. -

x x x x

(c)  upon the filing of the memorandum of the appellee, or the expiration of the period to do so, the case shall be considered submitted for decision.  The Regional Trial Court shall decide the case on the basis of the entire record of the proceedings had in the court of origin and such memoranda as are filed.

[4] A.M. No. RTJ-02-1736, June 26, 2003, 405 SCRA 22.

[5] Leonidas v. Supnet, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1433 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 00-955-MTJ), February 21, 2003, 398 SCRA 38, 51.

[6] Villanueva-Fabella v. Lee, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1518, January 15, 2004, 419 SCRA 440, 448-449.

Urbina v. Maceren, Adm. Case No. 288-J, June 19, 1974, 57 SCRA 403, 407.

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