Case Digest: Atty. Bernas v. Judge Reyes


A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728
July 21, 2010

Atty. Jose Bernas, filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) a complaint charging respondent Judge Julia Reyes (Judge Reyes) of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 69 of Pasig City with gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality in connection with an eviction suit before the sala of respondent Judge.

The facts state that herein complainant was the counsel for Oakridge Properties, Inc. (Oakridge) in an eviction suit filed by the latter against Atty. Joseph M. Alejandro, a tenant in one of its condominium units, who had refused to pay rentals and common expenses since August 15, 2001. For his part, Atty. Alejandro explained that his failure to pay rentals was justified since the air-conditioning unit which Oakridge provided in the leased premises was allegedly defective.

On June 1, 2004, and during the pendency of the eviction suit, Oakridge padlocked the leased premises, alleging that it was authorized to do so by the terms and conditions of the Contract of Lease. Atty. Alejandro then filed a Petition for Writ of Preliminary Injunction with prayer for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to have the unit reopened. This was heard on June 11, 2004. At the hearing, respondent Judge granted the TRO and ordered Oakridge to reopen the leased premises and to padlock it only if the proper bond was not posted on or before June 18, 2004. She also set the pre-trial or preliminary conference hearing on June 22, 2004.

Then respondent Judge issued several Orders which are the bases for the instant complaint against respondent Judge. First, Judge Reyes approved the TRO filed by Atty. Alejandro after paying an injunctive bond. Accordingly, she also ordered plaintiff [Oakridge] to remove the padlock in the premises within twenty days from date of said order and ordering plaintiff to discontinue the intended inventory of properties found inside the aforesaid premises pending the resolution of this case. Subsequently, Judge Reyes issued another order requiring Oakridge Properties through its counsel, Atty. Bernas, to explain in writing within 48 hours from receipt of this Order why they should not both be cited in contempt for failure to comply with the lawful Order directing the plaintiff to remove the padlock of the leased premises.

Less than 48 hours thereafter, and without waiting for the explanations from Oakridge, respondent Judge rendered a Decision which effectively disposed of the matter covered by the show cause order, as well as the merits of the case itself, notwithstanding the fact that there was still a pre-scheduled hearing and several motions pending action from respondent Judge.

Hence, the instant complaint alleging that respondent Judge displayed gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality.

Respondent Judge Reyes was ordered by OCA to file her comment but she failed to comply the Court's directive. This constitutes a blatant display of her disobedience to the lawful directives of the Court. A resolution of the Supreme Court requiring comment on an administrative complaint against officials and employees of the judiciary should not be construed as a mere request from the Court. Nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately or selectively.


With regard to the charge of gross ignorance of the law, we agree with the findings of the OCA that the bases for this charge involve contentious issues which could properly be resolved through an appropriate appeal or other judicial remedies and not through the instant administrative action.

Nevertheless reviewing the charges on manifest partiality, the OCA summarized the evidence which consists of cancellation of the hearings, refusal of Judge Reyes to calendar hearings, delay in resolving the case, disregard of the evidence favorable to Oakridge, rendering a decision which disposed of the case despite the pendency of unresolved incidents and undue haste in the issuance of succession orders.

After a close scrutiny of all the foregoing circumstances, the Court cannot conclude that respondent Judge was guilty of such misapplication of elementary court rules and procedure as to constitute gross ignorance of the law. However, the same circumstances, taken together and measured against the high ethical standards set for members of the Judiciary, are clear indicators of manifest bias and partiality as well as grave abuse of authority on the part of respondent Judge. Indubitably, the unseemly haste with which respondent Judge issued the Decision without waiting for complainant’s explanation to her show-cause order plainly prejudiced complainant and favored the other party.

Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity. As a matter of public policy, not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of his official duties renders him liable. In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity do not always constitute misconduct although said acts may be erroneous.

We now delve on the matter of penalties. Judge Julia Reyes’s disregard of the directive of this Court as embodied in its Resolution of June 14, 2005, warrants disciplinary sanction. Her conduct in the premises constitutes less serious charges under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC on September 11, 2001, for which a judge may be suspended from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months, or fined in the amount of more than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00), depending upon the circumstances in each case. Moreover, the OCA correctly found respondent Judge guilty of manifest bias, partiality, as well as grave abuse of authority, and recommended that respondent Judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits. However, during the pendency of this case, respondent Judge was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re¬employment in any branch of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations.

Unfortunately for respondent Judge, this does not render the instant case moot. Respondent Judge must not be allowed to evade administrative liability by her previous dismissal from the service.