Title
Limliman v. Ulat-Marrero
Case
A.M. No. RTJ-02-1739 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1423-RTJ) (Resolution)
Ponente
VITUG, J :
Decision Date
2003-01-22

FIRST DIVISION

A.M. No. RTJ-02-1739. January 22, 2003.
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1423-RTJ)

LIZA LIMLIMAN, SHARON A. DEGAY, WINNIE SALUNGA, JULIET NABUSAN, MARIANO LEYBA, MERCEDES DIAMAS, DANIEL CELINO, JUDE SALES, ANTONIO TORIO, BERNARDO UGERIO, JR., ANNIE CUDIAMAT, ROSA SALES, LOLITA ANCHETA, JENNYLYN COLINGAN and MARY NGASEO, complainants, vs. JUDGE NELSONIDA T. ULAT-MARRERO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 10, La Trinidad, Benguet, respondents.

SYNOPSIS

Respondent was charged with grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a judge. Formal investigation was thus recommended, but pending the same, respondent judge died. In its memorandum, the OCA opined that there are factual issues involved that have yet to be resolved and that the determination would necessitate a formal inquiry and the reception of evidence; that the death of respondent precludes the Court from ordering that such an investigation can still proceed; accordingly, the administrative case against her should now be deemed closed and terminated. The Court dismissed the instant administrative complaint.

SYLLABUS

POLITICAL LAW; ADMINISTRATIVE LAW; JUDGES; COMPLAINT DISMISSED WHERE JUDGE ADMINISTRATIVELY CHARGED DIED BEFORE INVESTIGATION. In Baikong Akang Camsa vs. Judge Aurelio Rendon (A.M. No. MTJ-02-1395 dated 19 February 2002), the Court dismissed the complaint against deceased Judge Rendon, holding that to "allow the investigation to proceed against the judge who could no longer be in any position to defend himself would be a denial of his right to be heard, our most basic understanding of due process." The outcome in Rendon might have, of course, been different had the investigation therein been completed prior to the demise of the respondent. In its memorandum in the instant proceedings, the OCA expresses that there are factual issues involved that have yet to be resolved and that their determination would necessitate a formal inquiry and the reception of evidence. The death of respondent judge precludes the Court from ordering that such an investigation still proceed; accordingly, the administrative case against her should now be deemed closed and terminated. EcAISC

R E S O L U T I O N

VITUG, J p:

In a complaint, dated 18 February 2002, Judge Nelsonida T. Ulat-Marrero was charged with grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a judge. Complainants, all employees of the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet, averred that respondent judge had failed to live up to the mandate of her oath of office such as by delegating the drafting of decisions to a legal researcher, entertaining in her chambers lawyers who have pending cases before her sala, joining in the bidding of auction sales, and mistreating her court personnel.

In her comment, respondent judge denied any allegation of wrongdoing. Explaining what might have been some unfortunate misconceptions on the part of complainants, respondent judge welcomed a full investigation so that the parties could all be heard.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), in its memorandum of 27 October 2002, opined that, indeed, a formal investigation would be necessary; thus, it recommended that the complaint be referred to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.

On 12 November 2002, a letter was mailed by Rogelio Marrero, husband of respondent judge, informing the OCA of the death of Judge Nelsonida Ulat-Marrero. Attached to the letter was the Certificate of Death indicating that respondent judge died on 03 October 2002 of respiratory failure.

In (A.M. No. MTJ-02-1395 dated 19 February 2002), the Court, citing previous cases, took occasion to discuss the implications and the effect of death of a respondent while an administrative complaint is still pending with the Court; viz:

"In , the respondent, a branch clerk of court of the then Court of First Instance of Masbate, was charged with irregularities while in office. The matter was referred to an Investigating Judge considering that there were persons mentioned in the complaint who had to be questioned. The Investigating Judge, in his report of 18 August 1973, recommended that the respondent be exonerated of the charges for lack of sufficient evidence. On 01 August 1974, while the case was pending before the Court, the respondent died. The Court, nevertheless, resolved the case so that the respondent's heirs might not be deprived of any retirement benefits due to them and ordered the dismissal of the case for lack of substantial evidence.

"In , the respondent judge, who was charged with gross ignorance of the law for having erroneously granted a demurrer to evidence, died while the case was being evaluated by the OCA for appropriate action. The Court, on the basis of what appeared on record, no factual matter being in serious dispute that would require a formal investigation, resolved to impose a fine of P5,000.00 on the respondent judge, stressing that he had been previously sanctioned by the Court for gross ignorance of the law.

"In , the respondent judge was charged with gross misconduct for allegedly having committed bigamy and falsification of public documents. The case was referred to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Toledo City for investigation, report and recommendation. An investigation was imperative considering that factual issues, including the circumstances of the respondent's first marriage to the complainant, were inextricably involved. Upon receipt of the report of the Investigating Judge, who recommended that the respondent judge be suspended for one (1) year without pay, the Court referred the matter to OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation. The OCA, in its memorandum, recommended that the respondent judge be dismissed from the service. The respondent judge died while the case was still being deliberated upon by the Court. The Court there held

"'However, we also cannot just gloss over the fact that he was remiss in attending to the needs of his children of his first marriage children whose filiation he did not deny. He neglected them and refused to support them until they came up with this administrative charge. For such conduct, this Court would have imposed a penalty. But in view of his death prior to the promulgation of this Decision, dismissal of the case is now in order.'

"It might also be noteworthy that in A.M. No. 97-9-283-RTC ( and A.M. No. 98-3-119-RTC ( , the Court deemed it inappropriate to impose any sanction following the death of the respondents during the pendency of their cases. In A.M. No. 97-9-283-RTC, it was shown that Judge Francisco Villacorta failed to decide cases pending before his court as so reflected by the judicial audit and confirmed by the OCA. Respondent Villacorta died before he could submit any explanation. The Court did not see it fit to still impose any disciplinary action on the respondent judge. In A.M. No. 98-3-119-RTC, Judge Efren Lamorena of RTC, Santiago City, Branch 36, was directed to explain the delay on the resolution of cases pending before his sala. Judge Lamorena was able to submit his comment but, soon after, he suffered a stroke which caused his death. The OCA in its memorandum to the Court did not recommend any administrative sanction on Judge Lamorena for 'humanitarian reasons.' The Court there agreed."

Concluding, the Court dismissed the complaint against Judge Rendon, holding that to "allow the investigation to proceed against the judge who could no longer be in any position to defend himself would be a denial of his right to be heard, our most basic understanding of due process." The outcome in might have, of course, been different had the investigation therein been completed prior to the demise of the respondent.

In its memorandum of 27 October 2002 in the instant proceedings, the OCA expresses that there are factual issues involved that have yet to be resolved and that their determination would necessitate a formal inquiry and the reception of evidence. The death of respondent judge precludes the Court from ordering that such an investigation still proceed; accordingly, the administrative case against her should now be deemed closed and terminated.

WHEREFORE, the instant administrative complaint against Judge Nelsonida Ulat-Marrero of the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet, Branch 10, is DISMISSED. aTCADc

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Ynares-Santiago, Carpio and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1. 62 SCRA 361.

2. 248 SCRA 625.

3. In , 227 SCRA 258, the Court ordered respondent judge to pay a fine of P10,000.00 for disregarding the provision of Section 3(b), Rule 71, of the (A.M. No. RTJ-95-1286, 02 March 1995), respondent judge was fined P20,000.00 for granting bail to the accused without the required hearing.

4. 268 SCRA 47.

5. At pp. 63 64.

6. 332 SCRA 273

7. 343 SCRA 427