CASE DIGEST: TOBIAS VS. LIMSIACO

A.M.No. MTJ-09-1734, January 19, 2011

FLORENDA V. TOBIAS, complainant, vs. JUDGE MANUELQ. LIMSIACO, JR., Presiding Judge, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental, respondent.

FACTS:

Complainant Tobias alleged that respondent Judge offers "package deals" for cases filed in the court he presides. She stated that sometime in June 2006, she requested her sister, Lorna V. Vollmer, to inquire from the Fourth MCTC of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental about the requirements needed in filing an ejectment case.Court Stenographer Salvacion Fegidero allegedly proposed to Vollmerthat for the sum ofP30,000.00, respondent would provide the lawyer, prepare the necessary pleadings, and ensure a favorable decision in the ejectment case which they contemplated to file against the spouses Raymundo and Francisca Batalla. Fegidero allegedly required them to pay the initial amount ofP10,000.00 and the remaining balance would be paid in the course of the proceedings.It was made clear that they would not get any judicial relief from their squatter problem unless they accepted the package deal. They paid the initial payment and were provided counsel. However, they were immediately charged by the respondent Judge another P10,000.00. They refused. They then asked the assigned counsel to voluntarily withdraw as counsel and they also asked respondent Judge to withdraw the case. The motions were granted.

Respondent Judge denied the allegations and presented affidavits executed by the counsel assigned to complainant Tobias as well as one executed by the Court Stenographer, supporting the denial of the allegations made by complainant. The Office of the Court Administrator deemed it necessary to conduct an investigation.

Investigating Judge Guanzon found that the complainant did not have personal knowledge of the alleged "package deals" to litigants who file cases in the court of respondent. The allegations in the Complaint were all based on the information relayed to complainant though telephone by her sister, Lorna Vollmer. During the investigation, complainant admitted that respondent did not personally receive from her the amount of P10,000.00 as payment for the alleged package deal, and respondent did not ask from her an additional P10,000.00.

According to Investigating Judge Guanzon, the only person who could have shed light on the alleged offer of package deals to litigants was Lorna Vollmer, complainants sister. Unfortunately, Vollmer was not present during the investigation because she was then inGermany. Hence, the complaint of corruption was unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, Investigating Judge Guanzon stated that although the alleged offer of package deals by respondent to litigants was unsubstantiated, it was improper for respondent to talk to prospective litigants in his court and to recommend lawyers to handle cases.Likewise, Judge Guanzon found respondents act of preparing the Motion to Withdraw as Counsel of Atty. RobertJuanillo to be improper and unethical.

Indeed, as stated by the OCA, the said acts of respondent violate Section 1 of Canon 2 (Integrity), Section 2 of Canon 3 (Impartiality), and Section 1 of Canon 4 (Propriety) of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary. Respondents act of preparing the Motion to Withdraw the Appearance of Atty. Juanillo as counsel of complainant is inexcusable.In so doing, respondent exhibited improper conduct that tarnished the integrity and impartiality of his court, considering that the said motion was filed in his own sala and was acted upon by him.

ISSUE: Whether respondent Judge is guilty of gross misconduct

HELD: The petition is meritorious.

POLITICAL LAW Administrative Law; Judges

The aforementioned acts of respondent constitute gross misconduct."Misconduct" means a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, willful in character, improper or wrong behavior."Gross" has been defined as "out of all measure, beyond allowance; flagrant; shameful; such conduct as is not to be excused."Respondents act of preparing the Motion to Withdraw the Appearance of Atty. Juanillo as counsel of complainant is inexcusable.In so doing, respondent exhibited improper conduct that tarnished the integrity and impartiality of his court, considering that the said motion was filed in his own sala and was acted upon by him.


Petition is GRANTED.

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