Maturan vs Guttierez-Torres
A.M. OCA IPI No. 04-1606-MTJ September 19, 2012
Facts: On August 12, 2004, complainant Atty. Arturo Juanita T. Maturan (Maturan), the counsel for the private complainant in Criminal Case No. 67659 entitled People v. Anicia C. Ventanilla, filed a sworn complaint against Judge Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres, the former Presiding Judge of Branch 60 of the Metropolitan Trial Court in Mandaluyong City, charging her with unjustifiably delaying the rendition of the decision in his client’s criminal case. Atty. Maturan averred that the criminal case had remained pending and unresolved despite its having been submitted for decision since June 2002. Atty. Maturan stated that Judge Gutierrez-Torres’ failure to render the judgment within the 90-day period from submission of the case for decision violated Canon 3, Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Constitution, and constituted gross inefficiency. On August 27, 2004, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Gutierrez-Torres through its first indorsement of the complaint to submit her comment, and also to show cause why no disciplinary action should be taken against her for her violation of her professional responsibility as a lawyer pursuant to the Resolution dated September 17, 2002 issued in A.M. No. 02-902-SC to which an extension was asked of by the respondent Judge. Despite the extension given, she still failed to file her comment and further asked for more extension.
Issue: Whether or not the respondent’s judge dismissal from service is valid.
Held: Yes. Article VIII, Section 15(1) of the 1987 Constitution requires that all cases or matters filed after the effectivity of the Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts. Thereby, the Constitution mandates all justices and judges to be efficient and speedy in the disposition of the cases or matters pending in their courts.
Reiterating the mandate, the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary requires judges to “devote their professional activity to judicial duties, which include xxx the performance of judicial functions and responsibilities in court and the making of decisions xxx,” and to “perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness.” Likewise, Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct imposes on all judges the duty to dispose of their courts’ business promptly and to decide cases within the required periods.
To fix the time when a case pending before a court is to be considered as submitted for decision, the Court has issued Administrative Circular No. 28 dated July 3, 1989, whose third paragraph provides:
A case is considered submitted for decision upon the admission of the evidence of the parties at the termination of the trial. The ninety (90) day period for deciding the case shall commence to run from submission of the case for decision without memoranda; in case the court requires or allows its filing, the case shall be considered submitted for decision upon the filing of the last memorandum or upon the expiration of the period to do so, whichever is earlier. Lack of transcript of stenographic notes shall not be a valid reason to interrupt or suspend the period for deciding the case unless the case was previously heard by another judge not the deciding judge in which case the latter shall have the full period of ninety (90) days for the completion of the transcripts within which to decide the same.
The time when a case or other matter is deemed submitted for decision or resolution by a judge is, therefore, settled and well defined. There is no longer any excuse for not complying with the canons mandating efficiency and promptness in the resolution of cases and other matters pending in the courts. Hence, all judges should be mindful of the duty to decide promptly, knowing that the public’s faith and confidence in the Judiciary are no less at stake if they should ignore such duty. They must always be aware that upon each time a delay occurs in the disposition of cases, their stature as judicial officers and the respect for their position diminish. The reputation of the entire Judiciary, of which they are among the pillars, is also thereby undeservedly tarnished.
The indifference of Judge Gutierrez-Torres towards the Court’s directive for her to file her comment despite the repeated extensions of the period to do so liberally extended by the Court at her request. Such indifference reflected not only that she had no credible explanation for her omission, but also that she did not care to comply with the directives of the Court. The latter represents an attitude that no judge should harbor towards the Highest Tribunal of the country, and for that reason is worse than the former. She should not be emulated by any other judge, for that attitude reflected her lack of personal character and ethical merit. To be sure, the Court does not brook her insubordination, and would do more to her had she not been removed from the Judiciary. Accordingly, the Court must still hold her to account for her actuations as a member of the Law Profession, which is what remains to be done after first giving her the opportunity to show cause why she should not.