Thursday, February 23, 2012

Office of the Court Administrator vs. Lorenzo, [A.M. No. RTJ-05-1911 December 23, 2008]

Facts: Two administrative cases were filed against respondent Judge Rodrigo B. Lorenzo involving the release on bail of accused Luven San Juan, Geneveve Ordono, and Annalyn Plaza, who were arrested while in the act of sniffing methylamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) in a pot session and in possession of 1.03 grams of shabu and paraphernalia, and of the five Chinese nationals who were caught in the act of manufacturing and in possession of shabu and 13,977.85 grams of substance, including various manufacturing paraphernalia. 

The respondent stated that the charge against San Juan, Ordono and Plaza- use and possession of 1.03 grams of shabu- was a bailable offense as a matter of right. Respondent also stated that he found no further reason to detain the Chinese nationals because of the prosecution’s inability to prove their guilt with strong evidence due to the non-appearance of the two key prosecution witnesses- the PNP forensic chemist, Police Inspector Sumobay and the head of the raiding team, Police Senior Inspector Insp. Napoleon Villegas- during the first three hearings scheduled for the petition for bail. 

Issue: Whether or not the administrative charges against the respondent should be maintained. 

Held: YES. While respondent judge did not err in granting the petition for bail of accused San Juan, Ordono, and Plaza since the offense they were charged with was bailable as a matter of right, the infractions committed by the respondent judge as to the release on bail of the Chinese nationals constitute serious misconduct, a term which suggests a violation of an established and definite rule of action, an unlawful behavior, or a dereliction of duty. 

Respondent judge did not even bother to look into the reasons for the non-appearance of the two key prosecution witnesses during the first three hearings scheduled for the petition for bail. If respondent did, he would have discovered that Villegas was on an official mission abroad during the petition for bail hearings, while Sumobay never received a subpoena. Furthermore, respondent judge personally entrusted the service of a subpoena and a bench warrant to persons not belonging to the Process Service. 

Indeed, respondent judge did not conduct himself with professional competence required by the Code. Proper and efficient court management is a judge's responsibility. He is directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions, and his disinclination to give the prosecution an opportunity to oppose the petition for bail certainly invites suspicion on his partiality.

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