Posted by: Elmer Brabante | November 10, 2009

Sacmar vs. Reyes-Carpio [AM RTJ-03-1766]


LINDA M. SACMAR vs. JUDGE AGNES REYES-CARPIO

A.M. No. RTJ-03-1766

March 28, 2008

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

FACTS:

In the case filed by complainant Sacmar against Zoren Legaspi in the MTC of Pasig City, the latter was convicted for grave threats and was sentenced to arresto mayor and and to pay complainant moral damages of twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00). Upon appeal by Legaspi, RTC Judge Reyes-Carpio (herein respondent) modified the decision, finding the accused guilty only of Other Light Threats under Article 265 of the RPC, reducing the penalty to arresto menor and to pay moral damages of ten thousand pesos (P10,000).

Complainant claims that respondent judge wittingly afforded unwarranted benefits to the accused which caused undue injury to her as private complainant in the case. She likewise avers that respondent judge exhibited manifest partiality towards the accused when she disregarded the evidence on record in modifying the decision of the MTC by downgrading the conviction of Legaspi from Grave Threats to Other Light Threats thereby reducing the criminal and civil liabilities of Legaspi.

Respondent vehemently denied all the charges, claiming that she “rendered her decision in good faith, without malice, and without any conscious and deliberate intent to favor a movie actor whom she does not even know.”

In her Reply, complainant pointed out that respondent judge, in her Comment, failed to explain why she unilaterally downgraded the conviction of accused Legaspi. In effect, respondent judge has impliedly admitted the charges against her when she failed to specifically challenge these charges. Complainant assailed the claim of respondent judge that the downgrading of the offense was rendered in good faith and without malice.

ISSUE: 

Whether or not Respondent Judge rendered an unjust judgment pursuant to Art. 204, RPC and for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

HELD:

Case dismissed for lack of merit.

As a rule, the acts of a judge which pertain to his judicial functions are not subject to disciplinary power unless they are committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith. To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment.

A perusal of the records, particularly the assailed decision of respondent judge, hardly show that respondent judge has indeed knowingly and deliberately rendered an unjust judgment. Complainant failed to satisfactorily show that respondent judge acted in bad faith, with malice or in willful disregard of her right as a litigant. Although the application and interpretation of the law by respondent judge differed from that of the judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court, complainant cannot sweepingly claim that respondent judge knowingly rendered an unjust judgment. For a charge of knowingly rendering an unjust judgment to prosper, it must be shown that the judgment was unjust, and not that the judge merely committed an error of judgment or took the unpopular side of a controversial point of law. He must have known that his judgment was indeed unjust. The failure of a judge to correctly interpret the law or to properly appreciate the evidence presented does not necessarily render him administratively liable. 

After several exchanges of pleadings between the parties, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. rendered the opinion that this administrative matter is not a proper subject of an administrative investigation. He pointed out that, pursuant to the rule in Wingarts v. Mejia, complainant failed to show beyond reasonable doubt that the assailed judgment was unjust and that respondent judge consciously and deliberately intended to do injustice to her by rendering such unjust judgment. Accordingly, on October 31, 2001, the Office of the Court Administrator recommended the dismissal of the instant administrative complaint against respondent judge.

The ruling of the Court in Basa Air Base Savings & Loans Association, Inc. v. Judge Gregorio G. Pimentel, Jr. is instructive:

A charge of knowingly rendering an unjust judgment constitutes a criminal offense. The keyword in said offense is “knowingly.” Thus, the complainant must not only prove beyond reasonable doubt that the judgment is patently contrary to law or not supported by the evidence but that it was also made with deliberate intent to perpetrate an injustice. A judge’s mere error in the interpretation or application of the law per se will not warrant the imposition of an administrative sanction against him for no one is infallible. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper consideration are sufficient defenses that will protect a judicial officer from the charge of rendering an unjust decision.

At any rate, complainant is not left without any remedy to question the soundness of the decision of respondent judge. Unfortunately, the records of this case do not reveal that complainant has utilized such avenues to seek a review of the penalty imposed by respondent judge. Only accused Zoren Legaspi elevated the matter before the Court of Appeals. The filing of this administrative case would not have the effect of setting aside or modifying the penalty imposed on accused Zoren Legaspi in the assailed judgment.

In Nelson Rodriguez and Ricardo Camacho v. Judge Rodolfo Gatdula, we had occasion to reiterate the ruling enunciated in In Re: Joaquin T. Borromeo, to wit:

An administrative complaint against a judge cannot be pursued simultaneously with the judicial remedies accorded to parties aggrieved by his erroneous order or judgment. Administrative remedies are neither alternative nor cumulative to judicial review where such review is available to the aggrieved parties and the same has not yet been resolved with finality. For until there is a final declaration by the appellate court that the challenged order or judgment is manifestly erroneous, there will be no basis to conclude whether respondent judge is administratively liable.

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