Jul 13, 2021 @ 22:23
Naga judge suspended for 6 months for explaining judgment to lawyers over text
The Supreme Court (SC) has suspended Naga City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 Judge Soliman Santos, Jr., from his duties for 6 months without salary and benefits, after he sent text messages explaining his judgment to the lawyers of the parties.
In a 12-page decision on A.M. No. RTJ-20-2600, the SC 1st Division declared Judge Santos guilty of impropriety and sternly warned him that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.
“It is the Court’s hope that respondent Judge will use the time to re-focus his energy on how to better perform his judicial functions and leave the discussions out of court to the parties,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda.
The sanction was triggered by a complaint filed by Roberto Obiedo against the judge.
Obiedo was the private complainant in the estafa case against Nino Rico Nery and Mary Anne Nery. On December 17, 2018, Judge Santos rendered a decision acquitting the couple but finding them civilly liable and ordering them to pay P1.29 million in actual damages and P100,000 as moral damages.
After promulgating the verdict, Judge Santos sent private prosecutor Edwin Hidalgo and defense counsel Edgar Abitria a text message saying he “was more den fair wd Nery, acquitting him despyt waiving his evid presentatn.”
Judge Santos further explained that his legal researcher actually recommended the spouses’ conviction for other deceits because Nino Rico assured Obiedo that he was holding a clean title.
He then raised the possibility that the acquittal may be reversed if the lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) and an appeal. “Convictn myt bcom a posibility f u MR & appeal kasi d pa final c aquital. I am bankin on u 2 gyd Nery to understnd & acept my dispositn,” he wrote.
After telling the lawyers what Nino Rico should do about the botched land sale, Judge Santos said he still “shd pay d actual damages na reducd na nga, kasi no reimb sa comisn & atty’s fees, plus som moral damages naman to Obiedo, actually consuelo de bobo.”
“Nevermind d judg hu das not make homtown decisns. Tnx & meri Xmas,” the message ended.
The SC said it was “certainly unnecessary for respondent Judge to elaborate on the rationale for his disposition because his promulgated judgment should already speak for itself.”
Although Judge Santos argued that he was merely discouraging the parties from pursuing further litigation and thought he could candidly communicate with lawyers that he knew from his previous private practice, the SC said this “cannot justify his text message to their lawyers because his judgment itself had already included such a discussion on this matter.”
The SC pointed out that even if he already decided the case before sending the text message, Judge Santos may still be seen as partial by the public. “The case will not preclude public criticism for acts which may render the disposition of a case suspect,” it said.
“It is therefore paramount that a judge’s personal behavior both in the performance of his duties and his daily life, be free from any appearance of impropriety as to be beyond reproach,” the SC said.