CASE DIGEST: Atty. Pasok v. Diaz (A.M. No. P-07-2300)

A.M. No. P-07-2300 : December 12, 2011 | ATTY. RUTILLO B. PASOK, Complainant, v. CARLOS P. DIAZ, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Tacurong City, Respondent. PER CURIAM:

FACTS: Before us is an administrative complaint filed by Atty. Rutillo B. Pasok against respondent Carlos P. Diaz, Sheriff IV of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tacurong City, Branch 20 for Dishonesty, Gross Inefficiency, Abuse of Authority and violation of Republic Act No. (R.A.) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.The charges stemmed from numerous cases wherein respondent sheriff allegedly extorted money from winning litigants on the pretext that said amounts will cover the costs of implementing court processes. Complainant averred that if parties failed to pay the amounts demanded, respondent would also refuse to perform his duty.

The Court resolved to docket the instant complaint as a regular administrative matter and refer the same to Executive Judge Milanio M. Guerrero, RTC, Branch 20, Tacurong City, for investigation, report and recommendation.

After a series of delays and extensions, Executive Judge Guerrero submitted his Investigation Report recommending the imposition of sanctions upon respondent Diaz for failing to follow the appropriate procedure in the collection of fees relative to the service of processes, writs and execution of judgment in Civil Case Nos. 761, 02-104, 02-076, the sixteen cases of the Spouses Loyola and Civil Case No. 671.

The OCA recommended that Diaz be dismissed from service for having been found guilty of grave misconduct. It further recommended the filing of corresponding criminal charges against Diaz for violation of R.A. 3019.

ISSUE: Whether or not respondent is liable for the offenses charged?

HELD: OCA's recommendation is adopted.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: administrative law; court personnel

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 court's 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.

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.

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, which prohibited court employees from receiving tips or any remuneration 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.

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.

Court finds CARLOS P. DIAZ, Sheriff IV, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Tacurong City, GUILTY of GRAVE MISCONDUCT.