Judicial delay - A.M. No. RTJ-11-2261

A.M. No. RTJ-11-2261

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"x x x.

On Respondent’s Gross Inefficiency

The Court, in the exercise of its administrative supervision over the lower courts, has the authority to look into the time spent by respondent judge in resolving the incident. As observed by the OCA, respondent judge failed to resolve the motion for his inhibition within the 90-day reglementary period. He acted on the first and second motions for inhibition, which were filed on 27 February 2006 and 28 February 2007, respectively, only on 13 March 2007, or more than a year after the filing of the first motion.

In the orderly administration of justice, judges are required to act with dispatch in resolving motions filed in their court. The parties have the right to be properly informed of the outcome of the motions they have filed and the Constitutional right to a speedy disposition of their case. Taking into account the circumstances in this case, we find no reason for respondent judge’s delayed action. Delay in resolving motions and incidents pending before a judge’s sala within the reglementary period fixed by the Constitution and the law is not excusable and cannot be condoned.

Under Section 15(1)[17] of Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution and Canon 3, Rule 3.05[18] of the Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are mandated to dispose of their cases promptly and decide them within the prescribed periods.[19] The failure of a judge to decide a case seasonably constitutes gross inefficiency.[20] It violates the norms of judicial conduct and is subject to administrative sanction.

The imposable penalty for gross inefficiency varies depending on the attending circumstances of a case. In a Resolution[21] dated 8 July 1998, this Court, through then Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno, exhaustively discussed the penalties that were imposed on several cases involving gross inefficiency. Thus:

We have always considered the failure of a judge to decide a case within ninety (90) days as gross inefficiency and imposed either fine or suspension from service without pay for such. The fines imposed vary in each case, depending chiefly on the number of cases not decided within the reglementary period and other factors, to wit: the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances— the damage suffered by the parties as a result of the delay, the health and age of the judge, etc. Thus, in one case, we set the fine at ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) for failure of a judge to decide 82 cases within the reglementary period, taking into consideration the mitigating circumstance that it was the judge's first offense. In another case, the fine imposed was sixty thousand pesos (P60,000.00), for the judge had not decided about 25 or 27 cases. Still in other cases, the fines were variably set at fifteen thousand pesos (P15,000.00), for nineteen (19) cases left undecided, taking into consideration that it was the judge's first offense; twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00), for three (3) undecided criminal cases; eight thousand pesos (P8,000.00), for not deciding a criminal case for three (3) years; forty thousand pesos (P40,000.00), for not deciding 278 cases within the prescribed period, taking note of the judge's failing health and age; and ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00), for belatedly rendering a judgment of acquittal in a murder case, after one and one-half years from the date the case was submitted for decision. In another case, suspension without pay for a period of six (6) months was imposed since, besides the judge's failure to timely decide an election protest for eight (8) months, the judge submitted false certificates of service and was found guilty of habitual absenteeism.[22] (Emphasis supplied.)

The following pronouncements in OCA v. Judge Quilatan[23] further illustrated the flexibility of the parameters in the determination of the amount of fine that may be imposed on judges for gross inefficiency:

Under the Revised Rules of Court, undue delay in rendering a decision is a less serious offense punishable by suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) month nor more than three (3) months, or a fine of more than PhP 10,000 but not exceeding PhP 20,000.

There were cases, however, in which the Court did not strictly apply the Rules, imposing fines below or more than the maximum amount allowed, thus:

In two cases, we imposed a fine of five thousand pesos (P5,000) on a judge who was suffering from cancer, for failing to decide five (5) cases within the reglementary period and failing to decide pending incidents in nine (9) cases; and xxx. In one case, the judge was fined twenty-five thousand pesos (P25,000) for undue delay in rendering a ruling and for making a grossly and patently erroneous decision. In another case, the judge was fined forty thousand pesos (P40,000) for deciding a case only after an undue delay of one (1) year and six (6) months and for simple misconduct and gross ignorance of the law, considering also that said undue delay was his second offense. Finally, the fine of forty thousand pesos (P40,000) was also imposed in a case for the judge’s failure to resolve one (1) motion, considering that he was already previously penalized in two cases for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and for Gross Ignorance of Procedural Law and Unreasonable Delay. (citations omitted)[24]

In the case at bar, respondent resolved the pending incident only after more than a year from the date the motion was filed. It bears stressing that the incident does not even involve a complex issue, it being a mere motion for inhibition. On a positive note, an examination of the records with the Legal Office of the OCA would show that this is the first time that he has been administratively charged. Under the foregoing circumstances, for gross inefficiency, we find the imposition of fine in the amount of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos reasonable.

x x x."
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