MANILA–The Supreme Court ordered a retired Pasay City Regional Trial Court judge to pay a PHP500,000 fine for evident bias and partiality in hearing a case despite several valid and significant grounds that merit his inhibition.
In a 13-page per curiam decision in AM No. RTJ-16-2457 (Sunico v. Judge Gutierrez), promulgated on February 21, 2017, the Supreme Court found retired Judge Pedro DL. Gutierrez, formerly of Branch 119, RTC of Pasay City, guilty of gross ignorance of the law, undue delay in rendering an order, and bias and partiality. The said amount of fine was ordered deducted from his retirement benefits.
On Nov. 11, 2013, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled that Gutierrez have committed grave abuse of discretion when he issued a writ of preliminary injunction in a civil case involving an expired lease contract between the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and one of its tenants. The appellate court ruled the lease contract itself would have shown, at first glance, that the tenant “was not entitled to the writ, even without a full-blown trial.”
Notwithstanding the pronouncements of the appellate court and CCP’s repeated motions for his inhibition, Judge Gutierrez proceeded with the case and even enjoined the parties to make a compromise agreement relative to the removal of the fence placed by the CCP outside of the leased premises.
In addition, he granted the tenant’s motion for removal of the fence erected by CCP, and denied anew CCP’s motion for his inhibition.
“Based on the foregoing, the respondent judge manifested ignorance as to the propriety or impropriety of issuing a writ of preliminary injunction,” stressed the Supreme Court.
The Court added that it found “equally disturbing” Judge Gutierrez’s “stubbornness to cling to the subject case for unknown reason,” noting that the respondent judge inhibited himself from the case only on November 25, 2014, or only after numerous motions for inhibition filed by CCP, the receipt of the SC Resolution dated June 2, 2014 which upheld nullification by the CA of Judge Gutierrez’s issuance of writ of preliminary injunction against CCP, and after the filing of the instant administrative case against him.
“In other words, there were several valid and significant grounds for him to inhibit from the case voluntarily yet he refused to do so for unknown reason,” lamented the Court, adding that the totality of the circumstances and the actuations of the Judge Gutierrez attendant to the case clearly lead to the inescapable conclusion that he evidently favored CCP’s former tenant, “a clear indicium of bias and partiality that calls for a severe administrative sanction.”