THE SUPREME Court (SC) has ordered a regional court judge to pay a fine of P17,500 for failing to act on a litigant’s motion to authenticate video evidence for forensic examination and enhancement.
In a resolution dated April 26 and made public on August 5, the court’s first division found Talisay City Regional Trial Court Branch 1 Presiding Judge Mario V. Manayon guilty of simple neglect of duty, which is a lesser offense than the Judicial Integrity Board’s (JIB) initial recommendation to fine him for undue delay in rendering an order.
The tribunal added the trial court judge failed to “give proper attention to a task expected of an employee resulting from either carelessness or indifference.”
Under SC rules, magistrates found guilty of simple neglect of duty are liable to a fine of more than P35,000 but not exceeding P100,0000 and suspension from office for up to six months.
The High Court noted that it decided to impose a lesser fine since this was the judge’s first offense, as the rules allow the court to impose a fine of not less than half of P35,000.
“Considering that this is respondent judge’s first infraction, the penalty of suspension from office for a period not less than one month nor more than six months; or the imposition of a fine of more than P35,000.00 but not exceeding P100,000 is a bit harsh,” it said.
The tribunal sternly warned Mr. Manayon of a more severe penalty should he repeat the offense or commit a similar violation.
The fine stemmed from a disbarment complaint from Cristhyn R. Abing, a private litigant who claimed the judge showed bias towards a witness during a criminal case as the judge repeatedly intervened during cross-examinations to answer questions for the witness.
Ms. Abing’s complaint accused the judge of obstruction of justice by failing to act on her request to authenticate video evidence and the supposed bias during the case hearings.
The National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) regional anti-cybercrime unit told her that they could only conduct a forensic examination on the video but not authenticate it.
Mr. Manayon argued that he only intervened during the witness’ cross-examination because he said the questions were vague or misleading.
“While judges should as much as possible refrain from showing partiality to one party and hostility to another, it does not mean that a trial judge should keep mum throughout the trial and allow parties to ask the question that they desire, on issues which they think are the important issue,” said the High Court.
The magistrate added that he had previously issued an order for the authentication of the video, but the prosecution opposed Ms. Abing’s additional motion to enhance the video, saying it would tamper with the evidence.
He added that the complainant agreed to return to the NBI to explain how the video was to be examined.
The High Court affirmed the JIB’s report that the judge’s inaction in resolving the complainant’s motion made him liable for neglect of duty.
“Judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness,” it said, citing the New Code of Judicial Conduct. — John Victor D. Ordoñez