CASE DIGEST: Judge Absin v. Montalla

A.M. No. P-10-2829: June 21, 2011

JUDGE EDILBERTO G. ABSIN, Complainant, v. EDGARDO A. MONTALLA, Stenographer III, RTC, Br. 29 San Miguel, Zamboanga del Sur, Respondent.



This administrative matter stemmed from a letter-complaint filed by Judge Edilberto G.Absin (Judge Absin), Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 29, San Miguel,Zamboanga del Sur (RTC-Branch 29), charging respondent Edgardo A.Montalla(Montalla), stenographer of the same court, with neglect of duty in failing to submit the required transcripts of stenographic notes (TSNs) despite repeated reminders from the court.

In his Comment dated and mailed on 10 March 2010,Montallaadmitted he was the stenographer who took down the stenographic notes on the dates mentioned and both the presiding judge and the clerk of court repeatedly reminded him to transcribe the stenographic notes of the proceedings.Montalla, however, claimed he was prevented from performing his tasks due to poor health as he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, peptic ulcer, and diabetes.Montallanow seeks the compassion of the Court as he is allegedly still recovering from his illnesses.

In the Resolution dated 2 August 2010, the parties were required to manifest if they were willing to submit the matter for resolution on the basis of the pleadings filed. We noted the letter dated 24 September 2010 of JudgeAbsininforming the Court that he was submitting the case for resolution on the basis of the pleadings filed without further comment. We dispensed with the manifestation ofMontallawho failed to file the same within the period despite receipt of the resolution.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) opined thatMontallashould have been fully aware that public officers are repositories of public trust and are under obligation to perform the duties of their office honestly, faithfully, and to the best of their ability. For failure to submit the required TSNs,Montallais guilty of gross neglect of duty classified as a grave offense and punishable by dismissal. However, for humanitarian reasons, the OCA recommended the imposition of the penalty of suspension of six months without pay with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar infraction in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

ISSUE: Whether Montalla is administratively liable for gross neglect of duty


POLITICAL LAW: Law on Public Officers, Gross Neglect of Duty

Montallashould be reminded that it is the duty of the court stenographer who has attended a session of a court to immediately deliver to the clerk of court all the notes he has taken, the same to be attached to the record of the case.Precisely, Administrative Circular No. 24-90was issued in order to minimize delay in the adjudication of cases as a great number of cases could not be decided or resolved promptly because of lack of TSNs. The circular required all stenographers to transcribe all stenographic notes and to attach the TSNs to the record of the case not later than 20 days from the time the notes are taken. The attaching may be done by putting all TSNs in a separate folder or envelope, which will then be joined to the record of the case. The circular also provided that the stenographer concerned shall accomplish a verified monthly certification as to compliance with this duty and in the absence of such certification or for failure and/or refusal to submit it, his salary shall be withheld.

The Court has ruled, in a number of cases,that the failure to submit the TSNs within the period prescribed under Administrative Circular No. 24-90 constitutes gross neglect of duty. Gross neglect of duty is classified as a grave offense and punishable by dismissal even if for the first offense pursuant to Section 52(A)(2) of Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.

This is not the first time thatMontallawas charged with neglect of duty for delay in the submission of the TSNs. He was previously warned of a repetition of the same or similar infraction. InOfficeof the Court Administrator v. Montalla,Montallaincurred a delay of more than three years in transcribing the TSNs despite constant reminders from his superiors to submit the same. In that case,Montallaadmitted lapses in the performance of his function which caused a delay in the speedy disposition of cases. He invoked serious marital problems which allegedly greatly affected his work. The Court consideredMontallas"humble acknowledgment of his transgressions and his offer of sincere apology and promise to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties" and the fact that it was his first infraction.Montallawas found guilty of simple neglect of duty and was finedP2,000with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

In the present case,Montallaalso failed to submit the required TSNs despite the warnings and the chances given to him to submit the same. The TSNs were taken in 2004, 2005, and 2006 and he was required to submit the same in 2009, 2010 and just recently, in February 2011. His utter disregard of the court directives and the reminders from his superiors and his lapses in the performance of his duty as a court stenographer caused delay in the speedy disposition of the case. This is no longer simple neglect of duty.Montalla, in repeatedly failing to submit the required TSNs for several years now, no longer deserves the compassion and understanding of the Court.

As a stenographer,Montallashould realize that the performance of his duty is essential to the prompt and proper administration of justice, and his inaction hampers the administration of justice and erodes public faith in the judiciary. The Court has expressed its dismay over the negligence and indifference of persons involved in the administration of justice.No less than the Constitution mandates that public officers must serve the people with utmost respect and responsibility. Public office is a public trust, andMontallahas without a doubt violated this trust by his failure tofulfillhis duty as a court stenographer.