Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has sought for the inhibition of Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 206 due to her display of a pattern of bias and obvious partiality in hearing the trumped-up illegal drug trading charge against the Senator.
In her 13-page Motion for Inhibition she filed last Oct. 15, De Lima said she opted to not raise the issue of inhibition in the past because she gave Judge Navarro-Domingo the benefit of the doubt and surmised that her questionable decisions were merely because she was newly-assigned to the case.
“However, these manifest prejudgments of incidents relating to the defense of the Accused did not stop,” she said.
As early as May 18, 2018, De Lima noted that Judge Navarro-Domingo displayed partiality by denying her Motion for Reconsideration of the Order admitting the Amended Information on the same day it was filed, and despite admitting in court that the Judge was not aware of its existence until her counsel brought it to her attention.
The Senator also recalled the Judge’s issuance of an Order on June 25 requiring the Prosecution to furnish the Court with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Resolution that supports the Amended Information, long after the Court already denied the Motion for Reconsideration of the Order admitting the Amended Information.
“Her obligation to carefully consider the Motion for Reconsideration and to review the records is made even more imperative given that she is the third judge to preside over the case,” De Lima said.
Instead of doing such, the Senator lamented that “the Honorable Judge displayed manifest bias and partiality when she ruled on the Motion for Reconsideration right there and then, without having known the existence before it was brought to her attention [and] without checking the records of the case…”
Note that in Criminal Case No. 17-167 lodged before the Muntinlupa – RTC, Branch 206, the Prosecution earlier filed an Amended Information that drastically changed the crime imputed against the Senator from “illegal drug trading” to “conspiracy to trade illegal drugs,” a move questioned by her and her legal counsels.
Further recalling the events that transpired in the past, De Lima said Judge Navarro-Domingo prematurely ruled on her Motion to Disqualify Prosecution Witnesses when she issued an Order dated Sept. 24 denying the said motion, without waiting for her Reply to the Prosecution’s Comment/Opposition.
“This act of the Honorable Judge shows that, regardless of the accused’s Reply which was yet to be filed at the time of the issuance of the 24 September 2018 Order, she was already predisposed in deciding the Accused’s Motion to Disqualify Prosecution Witnesses against her,” De Lima noted.
“This means that the Honorable Judge already had a pre-determined resolution of the Motion even before Accused filed her Reply. This clearly constitutes an act of prejudgment, reflecting the Honorable Judge’s manifest bias, partiality, and hostility against the Accused,” she added.
De Lima said Judge Navarro-Domingo’s manifestation of “bad faith and malice” towards her was further exposed when the latter cited false grounds for denying her the relief that she deserved.
The former justice secretary shared that instead of taking the opportunity to correct her mistake, Judge Navarro-Domingo chose to disingenuously cite a clearly false ground for denying her Motion to Vacate Order filed last Sept. 27, saying that De Lima allegedly filed her Reply to Prosecution’s Comment/Opposition out of time.
“It is clear, therefore, that the Honorable Court is not only predisposed to rule against the Accused, she is also willing to make up patently false reasons to avoid correction her mistake,” said De Lima.
Additionally, De Lima said Judge Navarro-Domingo also demonstrated her manifest bias and partiality against her by violating her right to an open and public trial. It may be recalled that verbal orders were supposedly issued by Judge Navarro-Domingo to court personnel to ban media from entering the courtroom and observing the conduct of the proceedings.
“These incidents, taken collectively, [n]o longer indicate mere lapses in judgment or innocent actions that were not intended to prejudice the defense of the Accused,” said De Lima.