Automatic conversion of administrative case into disciplinary action

EN BANC

[ A.M. NO. RTJ-03-1802, February 28, 2006 ]

J. KING AND SONS COMPANY, INC., VS. JUDGE AGAPITO L. HONTANOSAS, JR.,

SIRS/MESDAMES:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated FEB. 28, 2006.Adm. Matter No. RTJ-03-1802 (J. King and Sons Company, Inc., represented by its President, Richard L. King vs. Judge Agapito L. Hontanosas, Jr., Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, Cebu City)

In a Resolution dated September 21, 2004, this Court found respondent guilty of (a) Gross Misconduct for demanding P250,000.00 from complainant, using complainant's karaoke bar for free and for entertaining litigants at his home; (b) Gross Ignorance of the Law for lifting a writ of preliminary attachment without according complainant due notice and hearing; and (c) Simple Misconduct for his negligence in approving an insufficient counter-bond. The Court also considered as an aggravating circumstance, the fact that respondent had been previously found guilty of violating Circular No. 4, enjoining inferior court judges from playing or being present in gambling casinos. Thus, the Court imposed the penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits and disqualification from reinstatement to any public office. Respondent was further required to show cause why he should not be disbarred from the practice of law for conduct unbecoming of a member of the bar.

In compliance with this Court's directive, respondent filed his Comment dated October 13, 2004, where he asserted his innocence of the serious charge of corruption. As to the findings of misconduct arising from his using complainant's karaoke bar and his entertaining litigants at his home, respondent avers that although such actuations may constitute violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the same are not violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He further pointed out that the order being assailed, which lifted the writ of preliminary attachment in favor of herein complainant, was issued on July 5, 2002, prior to the effectivity of the Resolution in A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC (Re: Automatic Conversion of Some Administrative Cases Against Justices of the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan; Judges of Regular and Special Courts; and Court Officials Who are Lawyers as Disciplinary Proceedings Against Them Both as Such Officials and as Members of the Philippine Bar). Hence, respondent argues that said Resolution is not applicable to his case.

Respondent has a point in stating that: the Resolution in A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC should not be applied in his case. However, the application of said Resolution to a particular administrative action is not dependent on the date of commission of the offense. Rather, it is dependent on the date of filing the case. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Morante,[1] it was categorically held that A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC cannot be applied to an administrative case filed with this Court before its effectivity on October 1, 2002. The administrative case against herein respondent having been filed sometime in July 2002, said Resolution, requiring the automatic conversion of the administrative complaint against respondent judge into a disciplinary proceeding against him both as such official and as member of the Philippine Bar, should not apply to herein respondent.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the disciplinary action against respondent as a member of the Philippine Bar is DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA
Clerk of Court

[1] 428 SCRA 1, 35 (2004)

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