SC: Sacked judge in ‘defective’ weddings lied about charges

By: Gerome Dalipe

WHY did the Supreme Court sack lawyer Ofelia M.D. Artuz as presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 5 in Iloilo City?

Artuz, who is accused of solemnizing about 180 marriages that later turned out to be invalid, was found guilty of grave misconduct for failing to disclose that she had faced various charges when she was nominated for the position in 2006.

“Membership in the bar is an integral qualification for membership in the bench; his or her moral fitness as a judge also reflects her moral fitness as a lawyer,” read the SC decision dated Aug. 29, 2017.

City Legal Officer Edgardo Gil said Artuz, a former prosecutor, solemnized the marriages from 2017 to 2018 although she was already dismissed from the service in August 2017.

Mayor Jerry Treñas asked the National Bureau of Investigation in Western Visayas to investigate the alleged fake weddings discovered at the City Civil Registrar’s Office.

The case stemmed from administrative charges filed by lawyer Plaridel Nava, who accused Artuz of grave misconduct, dishonesty and falsification of public documents for her failure to make the appropriate disclosures in her personal datasheet.

Nava asked the high tribunal to nullify the nomination and appointment of Artuz as presiding judge of the MTCC Branch 5, for being patently illegal, improper and irregular.

In his petition dated Oct. 17, 2006, Nava said that Artuz was unfit and incompetent to be appointed as a trial judge.

Artuz faced various criminal administrative cases, wherein the nature of which “involved her character, competence, probity, integrity, and independence which should not have been disregarded in her application to the judiciary,” said Nava.

Replying to the charges, Artuz said the nullification case was a desperate retaliatory move by Nava after she filed a disbarment case against him.

The High Court later found Nava guilty of gross misconduct and suspended from the practice of law for two months.

Artuz claimed said the charges filed against her were already dismissed or were not given the due course.

She sought the outright dismissal of the case, saying that she met all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications for a judicial position.

In the 15-page en banc decision, the SC agreed to the recommendation report of the Office of the Court Administrator, which found Artuz to have deliberately lied in her personal datasheet.

She concealed the truth and made it appear that she is qualified for a judgeship position to which she was eventually appointed, the SC ruled.

“Her act of making an obviously false statement in her two Personal Data Sheets is a clear indication that she does not deserve any position in the judiciary,” read the SC decision.

Apart from dismissing her from the service, the High Tribunal also ordered Artuz to show cause why she should not be suspended or disbarred as member of the Bar.