Members of the judiciary are not exempt from charges of graft and corruption. Like men in uniform, they are expected to adhere to strict standards of ethics as dispensers of justice.
Section 6, Article VIII, of the Constitution gives the Supreme Court “Administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof.” The Supreme Court sitting en banc exercise disciplinary authority over judges in the lower courts, including those in the regular courts, special courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Sandiganbayan.
Investigations against these judges are “private and confidential” although a recent amendment to rule 140 of the Rules of Court, which defies disciplinary action against judges, allows a copy of the decision or resolution of the court to be made part of the judge’s record at the Office of the Court Administrator.
Citizens may file complaints against judges for offenses ranging from “serious,” to “less serious or light.”
Under “serious charges” fall bribery, dishonesty, and violations of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Serious offenses come with penalties ranging from suspension without pay, to fines, to dismissal from the service, and disqualification from public office.
“Less serious charges” include receiving additional or double compensation not authorized by law or the unauthorized practice of law, for which the respondent maybe suspended without pay for no more than three months, or fined not more than P20,000.
Fraternizing by judges, with lawyers, or litigants who have pending cases before their courts is considered a light offense punishable with a fine of not more than P10,000 or a censure, reprimand, or warning.
The Supreme Court may initiate its own investigation of an erring judge, or act on a verified complaint that comes with the required affidavits. The high tribunal may also conduct investigations based on anonymous complaints, as long as supporting documents are provided.
Once filed, a complaint may be referred to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, or to a retired Supreme Court justice, a judge of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, or a Regional Trial Court judge, depending on the respondent’s rank. The judge hearing the case has given 90 days to complete his investigation.