THE Supreme Court has ordered the dismissal from service of Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 5 Judge Ofelia M.D. Artuz for grave misconduct, dishonesty and falsification of official documents.
According to the high tribunal's decision dated August 29, 2017, the dismissal is effective immediately with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations, without prejudice to her criminal liabilities.
Artuz is likewise ordered to show cause within 15 days from notice why she should not be disbarred for violations of Rule 1.01, Canon 1, Canon 7, Rule 10.01, Canon 10, and Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.
The case against Artuz was filed 11 years ago when then practicing lawyer Plaridel Nava, now member of the Iloilo City Council, filed a complaint seeking the nullification of the nomination and appointment of Artuz as presiding judge of the MTCC Branch 5, for being patently illegal, improper and irregular.
In the said petition for nullification of the nomination and appointment of Artuz as presiding judge of MTCC Branch 5 filed on October 17, 2006, Nava alleged that Artuz was unfit and incompetent to be appointed as trial judge, as she faced "several criminal administrative cases, the nature of which involved her character, competence, probity, integrity and independence which should not have been disregarded in her application to the judiciary."
Nava said a document from the Judicial and Bar Council served as his basis in filing the case against Artuz.
"In his application for the position as MTCC judge, there was a question which states 'Have you ever been charged, accused or found guilty of any charge? Her answer was 'No'. However, I was able to secure a document from the Judicial and Bar Council and that was made basis of my complaint," said Nava.
In her defense, Artuz alleged that the nullification case was a desperate retaliatory move by Nava because of the disbarment case she filed against him and for which he was found guilty of gross misconduct and suspended from the practice of law for two months.
Artuz said the charges filed against her were already dismissed or were not given due course. She then prayed that the nullification case be dismissed, since she met all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications for a judicial position.
However, according to the Supreme Court, Artuz "deliberately and calculatedly lied in her answers to the subject question in her two Personal Data Sheet (PDS) to conceal the truth and make it appear that she was qualified for the judgeship position which she now holds."
"Time and again, the Court has emphasized that a judge should conduct himself or herself in a manner which merits the respect and confidence of the people at all times, for he or she is the visible representation of the law," the Supreme Court decision stated.
The conflict between the two started with the murder case handled by Nava and where Artuz was the assigned city prosecutor. Since they were adversaries in various administrative and criminal cases, Nava filed on July 28, 2005 a request for inhibition and re-raffle of the case before the Iloilo City Prosecutor's Office.
Artuz then filed her comment where she maligned Nava and his father, who was not a party to the case.
According to Nava, Artuz violated Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility that enjoins lawyers to conduct themselves with courtesy, fairness, and candor toward their colleagues in the profession.
He also complained that Artuz made malicious and false accusations in her comment when she accused him of crimes, which were "baseless and purely conjectural."
Nava also said that Artuz maliciously filed criminal cases against him, along with others, before the Department of Justice, and the cases were intended to harass, annoy, vex, and humiliate him.
He said Artuz also maligned her former superior and colleague, City Prosecutor Efrain V. Baldago, and this act constituted grave misconduct and violative of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
"She sought my disbarment. I filed a case against her sa SC. As a result, pareho kami nadisiplina ng SC. I was able to serve mine five years ago pa, a 60-day suspension. And her was worse at dismissal from service," said Nava.
Nava said in a radio interview that he has nothing to celebrate with his victory, adding he sympathizes with Artuz.
Artuz could not be reached for comment Friday, September 29. (Manny Regalado Alcalde/SunStar Philippines)