Sheriff dismissed for grave misconduct; Legal fees allowed by Rule 141 in execution and enforcement of court processes - A.M. No. P-07-2300

A.M. No. P-07-2300

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We adopt the recommendation of the OCA.

Time and again, this Court has pointed out the heavy burden and responsibility which court personnel are saddled with in view of their exalted positions as keepers of the public faith. They should, therefore, be constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided. Those who work in the judiciary must adhere to high ethical standards to preserve the courts’ good name and standing. They should be examples of responsibility, competence and efficiency, and they must discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence since they are officers of the court and agents of the law. Indeed, any conduct, act or omission on the part of those who would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary shall not be countenanced.[30]

There is no question as to respondent Diaz's guilt. The facts and the evidence, coupled with respondent’s own admission, sufficiently established his culpability. His categorical admission of having demanded and collected money from complainant and his clients to defray the expenses of the implementation of the writs is clearly in violation of the procedures laid down by the Rules with regard to the payment of legal fees.

Under Section 9, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, the sheriff is required to secure the court’s prior approval of the estimated expenses and fees needed to implement the court process. Specifically, the Rules provide:

SEC. 9. Sheriffs and other persons serving processes. - x x x

x x x x

(l) For money collected by him by order, execution, attachment, or any other process, judicial or extrajudicial, the following sums, to wit:
1. On the first four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, four (4%) per centum.

2. On all sums in excess of four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, two (2%) per centum.

In addition to the fees hereinabove fixed, the party requesting the process of any court, preliminary, incidental, or final, shall pay the sheriff's expenses in serving or executing the process, or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guard's fees, warehousing and similar charges, in an amount estimated by the sheriff, subject to the approval of the court. Upon approval of said estimated expenses, the interested party shall deposit such amount with the clerk of court and ex officio sheriff, who shall disburse the same to the deputy sheriff assigned to effect the process, subject to liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party making the deposit. A full report shall be submitted by the deputy sheriff assigned with his return, and the sheriff's expenses shall be taxed as costs against the judgment debtor.[31]

Thus, following the above-mentioned rules, it is imperative that a sheriff shall observe the following: (1) the sheriff must make an estimate of the expenses to be incurred by him; (2) he must obtain court approval for such estimated expenses; (3) the approved estimated expenses shall be deposited by the interested party with the Clerk of Court and Ex Officio Sheriff; (4) the Clerk of Court shall disburse the amount to the executing sheriff; and (5) the executing sheriff shall disburse/liquidate his expenses within the same period for rendering a return on the writ.[32] Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party who made the deposit.

Likewise, we have repeatedly ruled that sheriffs are not authorized to receive any voluntary payments from parties in the course of the performance of their duties. In this case, respondent's act of receiving the balance of P12,400.00 from Sumagaysay in Civil Case No. 671 is indeed a violation of Canon III, Section 2 (b) of A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC,[33] which prohibited court employees from receiving tips or any renumeration for assisting or attending to parties engaged in transactions involved in actions or proceedings with the Judiciary. Corollary, a sheriff cannot just unilaterally demand sums of money from a party-litigant without observing the proper procedural steps; otherwise, it would amount to dishonesty or extortion.[34]

We also take note that respondent's issuance of a temporary receipt,[35] which was handwritten on a scrap of paper, also constituted a violation of Section 113 of Article III, Chapter V of the National Accounting and Auditing Manual which provides that “no payment of any nature shall be received by a collecting officer without immediately issuing an official receipt in acknowledgment thereof.”[36]

Furthermore, it must be stressed anew that the duty of sheriffs to promptly execute a writ is mandatory and ministerial. Sheriffs have no discretion on whether or not to implement a writ. There is no need for the litigants to "follow-up" its implementation. When writs are placed in their hands, it is their ministerial duty to proceed with reasonable celerity and promptness to execute them in accordance with their mandate. Unless restrained by a court order, they should see to it that the execution of judgments is not unduly delayed. Clearly, in Civil Case No. 761,[37] when respondent took it upon himself to mediate between litigants and even provided an extension of the implementation of the writ, he appeared to be lacking in the amount of diligence required of him in the performance of his duties.

Under the circumstances, respondent is clearly guilty of grave misconduct which the Court will never tolerate. No less than the Constitution mandates that all public officers and employees should serve with responsibility, integrity and efficiency. Indeed, public office is a public trust. Thus, We have often stated that the conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, is circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. The Judiciary expects the best from all its employees who must be exemplars in the administration of justice.[38]

We come to the imposable penalty.

As per records, this is not respondent's first offense. In A.M. No. P-07-2332 dated September 4, 2009,[39] respondent had been previously suspended for one (1) month and one (1) day for Simple Neglect of Duty.[40]

Under the Civil Service Rules, if the respondent is found guilty of two or more charges, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most serious charge and the rest will be considered aggravating circumstances. Grave misconduct, a grave offense punishable by dismissal on the first offense, is the most serious charge of which respondent sheriff is found guilty. Thus, following the Civil Service Rules and the fact that this is his second infraction involving similar charges, dismissal from service is the appropriate penalty to be imposed on respondent sheriff.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds CARLOS P. DIAZ, Sheriff IV, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Tacurong City, GUILTY of GRAVE MISCONDUCT,[41] and orders his DISMISSAL from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and privileges, except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

The Legal Division of the Office of the Court Administrator is likewise, DIRECTED to INITIATE appropriate criminal proceedings against respondent Diaz.

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