Jan 15, 2021 @ 16:16

Cebu clerk of court, researcher fined for failing to serve order for release of acquitted man

The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered Clerk of Court Melinda Salinas and Legal Researcher Kim Jovan Solon of the Cebu City Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 6 to pay fines for their failure to serve the Cebu City Jail a copy of the order to release an acquitted man, causing a delay of at least two months.

In a recent 7-page decision, the SC 1st Division found Salinas and Solon guilty of simple neglect of duty and imposed a fine of P10,000 and P5,000, respectively. It also sternly warned them that a repetition of a similar act will be dealt with more severely.

The sanction arose from the complaint of Judge Pamela Baring-Uy regarding the failure to serve her June 29, 2016 order for the Jail Superintendent of the Cebu City Jail to be furnished with a copy of the June 9, 2016 decision finding Rey Labajo not guilty of illegal possession of bladed weapons.

Judge Baring-Uy later learned that the release order was not served and that Labajo remained in jail despite his acquittal. This was after Jail Superintendent Jessie Calumpang on August 31, 2016 inquired about the status of Labajo’s case, seemingly unaware that he had been exonerated.

Salinas explained that she handed the case folder to Solon and verbally instructed him to furnish the parties with copies of the order. She admitted that she followed to “follow up and check” on the case, but argued that her reliance on Solon was justified since no return of service is required by the procedures.

But, the SC stressed that as clerk of court, it was Salinas’s duty to plan, direct, supervise and coordinate the personnel’s activities, as well as “control and manage all records.” It said she relied too much on her subordinate and did not bother checking the status of the case.

“Salinas had been unmindful that even though Solon was the officer-in-charge to look after the criminal cases assigned in the court, at the end of the day, she remains the official custodian of judicial records,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr.

“She is chiefly responsible for the shortcomings of subordinates to whom administrative functions normally pertaining to them are delegated. To the mind of the Court, Salinas must also bear a share of the blame for failure to exercise a higher degree of care and vigilance in supervising her subordinates and managing court records and documents,” it added.

Solon, meanwhile, apologized for his “inadvertent” failure to promptly perform his task. He admitted that he could not remember when and how Salinas gave him the case records, or that she talked to him about the transmittal of the release order.

The SC accepted the apology, but said Solon must still be held liable for having “demonstrated disregard of the significance of his tasks.” It pointed out that he was already acting as clerk-in-charge of criminal cases for three years already and was assumed to be “already acquainted with the demands of his position.”

“It bears stressing that his failure to discharge his duty with the degree of responsibility and efficiency expected of him could have unduly deprived Labajo of his right to liberty and delayed the administration of justice had Labajo not been detained for some other legal cause,” read the decision.

Still, the SC opted to just impose fines as it took into account their admission of fault, expression of apology for their carelessness, the absence of malicious intent, and the fact that this was their first administrative charge.

It also reduced the fine for Solon, because he only receives a monthly salary of P24,495.

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