Rule on exhaustion of judicial remedies

Atty. Eligio P. Mallari v. Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr., Division Clerk of Court Josefina C. Mallari, and Atty. Antonio M. Elicaño). NOVEMBER 29, 2011. A.M. OCA IPI No. 11-182-CA-J.

FACTS: The complainant assails the respondents' participation in the reversal of a previous CA decision that denied the PNB's petition for certiorari. The CA Amended Decision nullified a Regional Trial Court (RTC) order and reinstated the PNB's notice of appeal to the disadvantage of the complainant, one of the plaintiffs in an RTC consignation case.

Specifically, the complainant accuses respondent Justice Bruselas with (1) Bribery for receiving P10 million bribe money in exchange for a favorable ruling from the PNB's former counsel, Atty. Jose Bernas; (2) Ignorance of Law and Dishonesty for the CA Amended Decision that modified a final and executory RTC decision; (3) Serious Gross Misconduct for granting the PNB's lost remedy of appeal via a petition for certiorari and for delaying the resolution of pending motions and manifestations; (4) Gross Ignorance of Law for disregarding the rules on finality of judgments, estoppel, laches and admission against interest; and (5) Gross Inefficiency and Neglect of Duty for undue delay in the promulgation of the CA Amended Decision.

As to respondent COC Mallari, the complainant charges her with Gross Inefficiency, Dishonesty, Neglect of Duty, Deceit and Bad Faith (1) for failure to attach to the "Notices" sent out to the complainant the copies of the CA's resolutions in CA-G.R. SP No. 106838; (2) for failure to timely submit the parties' pending motions and manifestations for the CA's action; and (3) for stamping "original signed" to the typewritten name of Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. who dissented in the CA Amended Decision, making it appear that there was full concurrence.

With respect to respondent Atty. Elicaño, the complainant accuses him of Grave Professional Misconduct, Dishonesty, Serious Violation of the Attorney's Oath, and Acts Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Legal Profession for delaying and preventing the execution of the final and executory decisions and orders of the RTC and the CA by filing motions and manifestations in the RTC and the CA.

In his comment, respondent Justice Bruselas contends that the complaint comes from a losing litigant in a case decided by a special division of five wherein four members, including the respondent Justice, voted against the complainant; the complaint is better addressed by a Rule 45 petition and the affidavit is sheer speculation and conjecture of an alleged corruption.

On the other hand, respondent COC Mallari explains that the "Notices" sent to the complainant did not require a copy of the CA resolutions because they were minute resolutions that were simply attached to the case rollo; the complainant's motions and manifestations were chronologically disposed of and brought to the attention of the CA Justices; and that there was no representation of "full concurrence" because Justice Reyes' dissenting opinion was attached to the copy of the CA Amended Decision sent to the complainant.

For his part, respondent Atty. Elicaño submits that the filing of manifestations and motions was done within the bounds of procedural rules and did not transgress the Code of Professional Responsibility.

HELD: The Supreme Court DISMISSED the petition for being premature and for lack of merit.The alleged errors attributed to respondent Justice Bruselas principally pertain to the exercise of his adjudicative functions. Such errors cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should be corrected through judicial remedies. The established doctrine is that disciplinary proceedings against judges DO NOT complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. An inquiry, into their administrative liability arising from judicial acts may be made only after other available remedies have been settled with finality.
"Resort to and exhaustion of these judicial remedies, as well as the entry of judgment in the corresponding action or proceeding, are [prerequisites] for the taking of other measures against the persons of the judges concerned, whether of civil, administrative, or criminal nature. It is only after the available judicial remedies have been exhausted and the appellate tribunals have spoken with finality, that the door to an inquiry into his criminal, civil, or administrative liability may be said to have opened, or closed."[1]
For obviously, if subsequent developments prove the judge's challenged act to be correct, there would be no occasion to proceed against him at all.

We have stressed that "judges must be free to judge, without pressure or influence from external forces or factors[;] they should not be subject to intimidation, [or] the fear of civil, criminal, or administrative sanctions for acts they may do and dispositions they may make in the performance of their duties and functions."[2]

In this case, the complainant prematurely filed the administrative complaint against respondent Justice Bruselas; he has not fully exhausted all available judicial remedies available to him, such as an appeal or a petition for certiorari for any perceived grave abuse of discretion. Besides, the complainant has failed to substantiate his charge of bribery. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the presumption that respondent justice Bruselas regularly performed his duties will prevail.

There is likewise no merit to the complainant's charge of inefficiency, dishonesty, neglect of duty, deceit, and bad faith against respondent COC Mallari. The complainant failed to rebut the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties. Respondent COC Mallari also did not misrepresent "full concurrence" in the CA Amended Decision since Justice Reyes' dissenting opinion was appended to the copy sent to the complainant. It is well settled that bad faith or malice can never be presumed; it must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. No such evidence exists in this case.

Although the "Court will never tolerate or condone any act, conduct or omission that would violate the norm of public accountability or diminish the people's faith in the judiciary, neither will it hesitate to shield those under its employ from unfounded suits that only serve to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice."[3]

As to respondent Atty. Elicaño, we note that the complainant failed to show adequate proof that he overstepped the norms of his Lawyer's Oath in advocating the interest of his client. Canon 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility enjoins a lawyer to represent his client with zeal. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we cannot discipline respondent Atty. Elicano for availing of procedural remedies to protect his client's interest.
[1] Salcedo v. Bollozos, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2236, July 5, 2010, 623 SCRA 27 42-43.
[2] Id. at 43.
[3] Equitable PCI Bank, Inc. v. Laviña, A.M. No. RTJ-06-2001, August 16, 2006, 499 SCRA 8, 19-20.