SC dismisses Cagayan court employee for grave misconduct

By on February 25, 2017

The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed a court employee in Cagayan for physically assaulting a judge last July 2010. ( Photo:  Mike Gonzalez / Wikimedia Commons.)
The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed a court employee in Cagayan for physically assaulting a judge last July 2010. ( Photo: Mike Gonzalez / Wikimedia Commons.)

MANILA –The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed a court employee in Cagayan for physically assaulting a judge last July 2010.

In a 15-page unanimous decision, the Court effectively dismissed James D. Lorilla, Junior Process Server, Office of the Clerk of Court, Municipal Trial Court (MTC), Lal-lo, Cagayan for grave misconduct.

Lorilla was found guilty of shouting at Judge Andrew U. Barcena and physically assaulting him within the court premises in the presence of court employees on July 15, 2010.

The Court held that Lorilla’s actions “clearly exhibit rudeness and disrespect not only towards [Judge Barcena] but to the court as well.”

He was dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations.

“Court employees are expected to be well-mannered, civil, and considerate in their actuations, both in their relations with co-workers and the transacting public. Boorishness, foul language and any misbehavior in court premises must always be avoided,” the court said

Days before July 15, 2010, various personnel from the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), MTC Lal-lo, Cagayan, namely, Thelma S. Abadilla, Roseller O. Israel, Ulysses D. Dupaya, and Roy Rosales, including Lorilla, wanted their accomplished Performance Evaluation Forms (PEFs) for the period January-June 2010, signed by Judge Andrew U. Barcena. Judge Barcena was then the Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 17, Alibagu City, Ilagan, Isabela; Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 3, MTC; and designated Executive Judge of the MTC. Busy with drafting decisions and with the thought that the deadline for the PEFs was about a month away, Judge Barcena instructed Abadilla, Clerk of Court II, and immediate supervisor of Lorilla, Israel, Dupaya, and Rosales, to hold the PEFs in the meantime; and told the personnel that he will confer with each staff to assess and evaluate their individual ratings before signing the PEFs.

On July 15, 2010, Judge Barcena’s Clerk informed him that Lorilla, Dupaya, Rosales, and Israel were outside his chambers demanding that he sign their PEFs. Judge Barcena went out of his chamber and asked Lorilla to call Abadilla instead. Lorilla, however, shouted at and physically assaulted Judge Barcena by forcibly grabbing him and arm-locking his neck and body.

Judge Barcena reported the incident to RTC Executive Judge Conrado F. Manauis and stated that he would file criminal and administrative charges against Lorilla, Dupaya, Rosales, Israel, and Abadilla. Executive Judge Manauis wrote to Deputy Court Adminstrator Raul B. Villanueva about the incident recommending that Lorilla, Dupaya, Rosales, Israel, and Abadilla be charged with gross insubordination and gross disrespect to judicial authority and be subjected to an investigation.

Lorilla, Dupaya, Rosales, and Israel asserted that had they been instructed to leave, they would have left and not have waited patiently for Judge Barcena. Meanwhile, Abadilla denied any directive from Judge Barcena that she disobeyed. She further denied any knowledge of her co-respondents alleged plan to attack Judge Barcena, and that she was summoned to the office of a different judge when the incident occurred.

Judge Barcena insisted that there was conspiracy among Lorilla, Dupaya, Rosales, and Israel to storm into his office with the sole and ulterior motive of coercing him into singing their PEFs, and when he did not sign them, Lorilla boldly and shamelessly assaulted him and almost choked him to death. He also charged insubordination against Abadilla, claiming that after he gave a verbal instruction to confer with each employee before signing their PEFs and to keep in her custody the PEFs, she willfully disregarded his orders.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended the penalty of suspension from office without pay for two years to Lorilla because of grave misconduct; a fine amounting to PHP3,000 on Rosales for discourtesy in the course of official duties; and the dismissal of the charges against Abadilla, Dupaya, and Israel for insufficiency of evidence.

With respect to Rosales, the OCA found him administratively liable for discourtesy as it gave credence to the statement of Dante Quinto (Junior Process Server I) as to the “gutter-like” remarks he uttered at around 11:20 a.m. or immediately before the scuffle, “for there could be no other conclusion except that those words were directed towards Judge Barcena.” Quinto submitted an Affidavit stating that immediately prior to the choking incident, he overheard Rosales utter “Guyuden yun ta ikugtagugtar tay dita kanal len!”translated as “pull him out and we will kick him to the canal.”

The Court adopted the OCA’s recommendation to dismiss the administrative complaint against Abadilla, Dupaya, and Israel for want of sufficient evidence. “Judge Barcena filed to support his accusations against them.”

Meanwhile with regard to Rosales, the Court gave him the benefit of the doubt, “the affidavit of Quinto was devoid of any indication that the purported derogatory remarks were directed towards Judge Barcena.”

With respect to Lorilla, the Court agrees with the OCA’s findings that his actuations constituted grave misconduct.

“Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, unlawful behavior, willful character, improper or wrong behavior. The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence.”

Lorilla’s denial of assaulting Judge Barcena was refuted by sworn statements of other personnel present. “Without a doubt, Lorilla failed to live up to the ethical norm expected of him as an employee of the Judiciary.” The Court underscored, “[g]ranting that [Lorilla] was provoked by Judge Barcena’s uncouth behavior, his conduct remains inexcusable.” Under Section 36 (A) (3), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in Civil Service, grave misconduct is a grave offense punishable by dismissal even for the first offense.

“Time and again, the Court has stressed that fighting or misunderstanding is a disgraceful sight reflecting adversely on the good image of the Judiciary. It displays a cavalier attitude towards the seriousness and dignity with which court business should be treated. Professionalism, respect for the rights of others, good manners, and right conduct are expected of all judicial officers and employees. Their behavior and actuations must be characterized by propriety and decorum and should at all times embody prudence, restraint, courtesy and dignity,” the court noted

The Court also took into consideration that this was not the first time that Lorilla was found administratively liable. In a previous case (Aquino v. Israel, A.M. No. P-04-1800, March 25, 2004), Lorilla was found liable for misconduct and fined the amount of Php1,000 for punching a co-employee. “He seemed undeterred despite earlier warning that any repetition of a similar infraction would be dealt with more severely.” The Court thus held that suspension for two years as recommended by the OCA is insufficient, and instead imposed him the supreme penalty of dismissal, “[h]e has no place in the Judiciary.”

The Court, however, also stressed that it is “not unaware of the heavy case load of the first level courts but this incident could have been avoided if proper communication was made to each and every office under Judge Barcena’s supervision.

Judge Barcena is advised to implement a more efficient and systematic approach in the supervision of employees within his administrative area like keeping a schedule of signing documents. He is also reminded that courtesy is likewise expected of him, in his conduct and language, towards his subordinates. Needless to state, the use of vile and demeaning words should be completely avoided.”