SC suspends judge, fines another over handling of search warrants

September 28, 2017 - 4:31 PM
Supreme Court marker
The Supreme Court in Manila. INTERAKSYON FILE PHOTO

MANILA – The Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-4-1, has suspended a judge for two years without pay and fined another P20,000 over the mishandling of search warrants applications. Both are from the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).

The 27-page decision penned by Justice Mariano C. del Castillo in AM No. 16-05-142-RTC, promulgated on September 5, 2017, found Judge Zaldy B. Docena of RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City, guilty of gross neglect of duty and suspended him for two years without pay for the mismanagement of search warrant applications.

The Court, meanwhile, found Judge Celso R. L. Magsino, Jr. of Regional Trial Court, Branch 74, Malabon City, and then Executive Judge, Malabon City RTC, guilty of simple misconduct and fined him P20,000 for imposing his own internal policies and practices in lieu of the existing rules in the raffle of applications involving ordinary cases covered by the Guidelines.

The Court held that the gravity of Judge Docena’s neglect in the performance of his duties was so serious as to warrant a penalty of dismissal but took into consideration his length of service of 30 years in various sectors of the government, and noted that this was Judge Docena’s first time to be administratively sanctioned by this Court. Thus, he was given a lesser penalty.

Both were given a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more severely.

The sanctions stemmed from the spot audit conducted in April 2016 by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in the said RTC “due to persistent reports pertaining to the alleged irregular issuance of search warrants by Presiding Docena.”

The OCA recommended Docena’s suspension after it found that several search warrants he had issued were enforceable outside the territorial jurisdiction of Malabon City in violation of Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, which provides for the proper venue where applications for search warrant should be filed.

The Court, however, disagreed with the OCA that Judge Docena and Judge Magsino violated Rule 126 by simply issuing search warrants involving crimes committed outside their jurisdiction. It noted that both “simply exercised the trial court’s ancillary jurisdiction over a special criminal process when they took cognizance of the applications and issued said search warrants. It stressed that the propriety of the issuance of these warrants is a matter that should have been raised in a motion to quash or in a certiorari petition, if there are allegations of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the issuing judge.”

Instead, the Court found sufficient evidence to hold Judge Docena administratively liable for gross neglect of duty for the serious mismanagement of search warrant applications in Branch 170. It noted that records show Docena has failed to properly monitor the submission of returns as required under Rule 126 and committed several lapses in ascertaining whether Section 12(a) of Rule 126 has been complied with by certain applicants.

The high court added that Docena failed to comply with his administrative responsibilities under Rules 3.08 and 3.09 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which calls for the facilitation of the performance of the administrative functions of other judges and court personnel and organization and supervision of the court personnel to ensure the prompt and efficient dispatch of business.

Court staff also sanctioned

As such, the Court also sanctioned the staff of Judge Docena. It found Atty. Jesus S. Hernandez, Branch Clerk of Court; Zenaida Z. Salonga, Clerk-in-Charge; and Court Stenographers Olivia M. Labagnao, Rosario M. San Pedro, Debhem E. Fardo, and Gigi M. Mendoza, all of Malabon RTC, Branch 170, guilty of simple neglect of duty for failure to diligently perform their respective administrative duties.

The Court held that Clerk of Court Atty. Hernandez, as administrative officer, “fell short of the diligence and care require of him” noting that, among others, case records have no minutes of proceedings; some search warrants are incorrectly dated and were handed over to the witnesses instead of the applicants; and there is no date and time of receipt of the case folder by Branch 170 on the face of the search warrant applications. He was suspended for one month without pay and was given a stern warning that a repetition of the same would be dealt with more severely.

Clerk-in-charge Salonga unjustifiably failed to maintain the required log book for search warrant applications, while stenographers Labagnao, San Pedro, Fajardo, and Mendoza failed to produce a total of 34 stenographic notes or seven sets of consolidated notes, and to properly label their stenographic notes; and only prepared transcripts of stenographic notes upon request of the applicants. All were admonished to be more diligent and circumspect in the performance of their duties.

The Court also found Atty. Esmeralda G. Dizon, Clerk of Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC, Malabon City, guilty of simple misconduct and fined P20,000, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same would be dealt with more severely.

Together with Judge Magsino, the Court found Atty. Dizon was also administratively liable for simple misconduct for failing to observe pertinent portion of Section 6 of the Guidelines, which requires the search warrant applications assigned to a branch during the special raffle to be deducted from the number of cases allotted to on the next scheduled regular raffle. Likewise, they also failed to observe the proper ratio of the raffling of cases as prescribed.

Justice del Castillo was joined in the majority by Justices Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Francis H. Jardeleza, Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, Samuel R. Martires, Noel G. Tijam, and Andres B. Reyes. Jr.

Justice Diosdado M. Peralta dissented and opined that the Court should have found Judge Docena guilty of gross ignorance of the law, gross negligence, and gross misconduct, and should have dismissed him from the service. He was joined in his opinion by Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Justices Lucas P. Bersamin and Marvic M.V.F. Leonen.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno was on official leave, while Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo took no part.