Old cases come back to haunt judge, clerk, while SC gets tougher

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Monday, April 1, 2013


PREVIOUS investigations of Cebu City Judge Rosabella Tormis and her chief clerk weighed heavily on the Supreme Court (SC) when it decided to dismiss them both from the service.

But their cases also emphasize the need to fill up vacancies in courtrooms and to declog the caseloads of judges, some lawyers said.

The SC en banc, headed by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, has ruled that Tormis and Reynaldo Teves, the judge’s former clerk of court, were repeat offenders who showed they were no longer able to discharge their judicial functions.

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“The honor and integrity of the judicial system is measured not only by the fairness and correctness of decisions rendered, but also by the efficiency with which disputes are resolved,” read the SC decision dated March 12.

New look

In a recent interview, Tormis described the decision as unfair and unjust, and said she planned to contest it. She also said the unresolved cases cited in the SC’s decision were pending when she was suspended in 2008 for a separate administrative case. But she resolved them once she was reinstated, she recalled.

“I have to clear my name. I want a reinvestigation as I was never given the chance (to answer),” she told Sun.Star Cebu in that recent phone interview. “Di gyod ko tapulan (I’m not lazy). Nobody can say that about me.”

Asked to comment on the SC’s decision, Earl Bonachita, Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter, said the delay in the disposal of cases may erode the people’s trust in the justice system.

“All the vacancies must be filled up and more courts should be created to address the clogging up of our court dockets,” Bonachita also said.

Dean Jonathan Capanas of the University of San Jose Recoletos Law School said there is truth to the saying that justice delayed is justice denied.

“The parties to a litigation have the right to a speedy disposition of their case,” Capanas told Sun.Star Cebu in a text message.

Changes

He is optimistic that the SC’s plan to shift the system of court proceedings from the modified jury system to an inquisitorial system will shorten the process and make various courts more efficient.

“The alternative dispute resolution through conciliation and mediation or even through voluntary arbitration can also help declog the caseload of our courts,” Dean Capanas said.

The SC has dismissed Tormis for gross inefficiency, violation of the SC rules, directives and circulars, and ignorance of the law.

But Tormis, 63, of Tacloban City, said she will contest the “unfair” decision. She has explained to the SC that she did conduct a physical inventory of case records, but was only disrupted by her previous suspensions for separate administrative cases.

The dismissal of Tormis and Teves stemmed from an audit report of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) from June 16 to 28, 2008.

The audit team found out that 11 criminal cases have not been promulgated before Tormis’s sala, despite the lapse of the mandatory period. Two inherited cases also remained undecided for about 10 years.

What caused it?

About 112 criminal and 83 civil cases that were submitted for decision remained undecided beyond the prescribed period, the audit report had said, among other findings.

Tormis, who took her oath and assumed office on June 22, 1999, had been suspended three times for separate administrative cases.

Teves, for his part, explained that their court did not maintain a general docket book, because they had not been provided by the SC with the needed supplies.

In the decision, the SC pointed out that lower court judges are supposed to decide a case within 90 days. In Tormis’ sala, the SC said, two cases had remained undecided for about 10 years and 195 cases had yet to be decided, despite having been submitted for decision more than 90 days before.

The SC refused to consider Tormis’s defense that her suspensions barred her from performing her judicial functions.

“She cannot be allowed to use the same to justify another violation of her solemn oath to dispense justice,” the SC said. The delay in deciding a case on time, it added, violates Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Heavier

“Judge Tormis’ conduct as a repeat offender exhibits her unworthiness to don the judicial robes and merits a sanction heavier than what is provided by our rules and jurisprudence,” the SC said.

The SC also cited the past administrative cases against Teves in dismissing him from the service for two counts of simple neglect of duty.

The court had previously suspended Teves for 30 days for grave abuse of authority, for his refusal to receive a motion of a litigant since the pleading allegedly did not conform with the requirement of the Rules of Court.

“It seems that he (Teves) has remained undeterred in disregarding the law and he appears to be unfazed by the previous penalties and warnings he received,” the SC ruled.

The clerk’s repeated infractions, the SC pointed out, “seriously compromise efficiency and hamper public service, which the Court can no longer tolerate.”

The SC forfeited all the benefits of Tormis and Teves, except accrued leave credits, and barred them from working again in the government.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 01, 2013.

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